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Yto Barrada, Untitled (painted educational boards found in Natural History Museum project, Azilal), 2013-2015, chromogenic print, 27-9/16" x 27-9/16" (70 x 70 cm) each, 6 prints, Edition of 5 + 2 APs © Yto Barrada

Photography In Focus

Yto Barrada

Untitled

Written by Tamara Corm, Senior Director

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“In the first days of January 2014, I was on a scouting trip in the Atlas Mountains, preparing to shoot a film on the counterfeit-fossil industry. I had taken the road to Azilal hoping to find dinosaur footprints, and to collect carpets for an installation on geological time.

There, around the back of a unique salmon-pink building—the unfinished dinosaur museum of the M’Goun Conservation Area—I found the painted boards.

As the central government built roads, dams and mines across these regions, Morocco’s fossils treasures were first unearthed. The boards, and the abandoned museum in which I found them, resonated with me as a powerful echo of the violence of imperialism and the continuous dispossession of the people who live in these mountains, from the last century’s French occupation up to today’s policies.”

Yto Barrada

The series Untitled (painted educational boards found in Natural History Museum project, Azilal) was shown for the first time at Pace Gallery in London as part of the exhibition Yto Barrada: Faux Guide (2015). Inspired by a trip Barrada took across Azilal, a province of Morocco in the heart of the Atlas Mountains, this exhibition looked at the trade of fossils and minerals as a revealing aspect of cultural production. This body of work explores the history of this area which was infiltrated by colonial forces during the French Protectorate in Morocco. Using museum collection practices as conceptual strategies, Faux Guide reflected on the politics of tourist economies, industrial infrastructure, and local communities as reflected in the land, stones, sand and soil.

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Installation view, Yto Barrada: Faux Guide, June 25 – August 8, 2015, Pace Gallery, London © Yto Barrada

In stumbling across these colorful boards, stacked up beside the trash cans of the M’Goun Conservation Area’s unfinished dinosaur museum, Barrada recounts that they reminded her of paintings made by the artists of the Casablanca Art School, such as Mohamed Melehi, Mohammed Chabâa, and Farid Belkahia. The school of artists—which takes its inspiration from the colours of the Bauhaus, the “hard-edge” painting of New York and Arabic abstract design alike—is a significant influence on Barrada’s own artistic practice. Barrada was granted access to the empty museum under the supervision of the lone security guard and found there were several more of these painted composite boards that had been repurposed to block out light coming through the windows. Barrada later discovered that these painted boards had been originally created for an educational show that had taken place a decade earlier in the capital’s Ministry of Energy and Mines.

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This exhibition, Barrada found, was a step-by-step description of the “pedagogy of exploitation”. Thus, for Barrada, these boards underwent a transformation from colourful trash to makeshift light-blocking devices to relics of an exhibition about the history of this land. Barrada had hoped to rescue them from the trash; unfortunately as they were considered government property the panels had to stay in Azilal. Instead Barrada chose to photograph and print these images at half the scale of the originals. In so doing they were restored to their original state, that of an artwork that tells a history of discovery, transformation, exploitation, and neglect.

Essays — Photography in Focus: Yto Barrada, Jul 8, 2020