© Yto Barrada 

Yto Barrada

The Magician & The Smuggler

Video-Installation -  Tangier 

Festival Complicitats 2008

︎CCCB - Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona

25/02 - 01/03 | 11:00-20:00 

Spanish Premiere 

In magic, all the trickery and craftsmanship lies in controlling what is made visible to the viewer's naked eye. The magician's hands are faster than the spectator's eyes, explains Abdelouahid el-Hamri or 'the Sinbad of the Straits' in Yto Barrada's The Magician (2003), a documentary video so straightforward it feels almost instructional.

In The Magician the camera alternates between two types of shot: a close-up of el-Hamri's face or hands and a nearly full view as he demonstrates his craft. The video is shot in the magician's courtyard, a makeshift stage framed by shabby black curtains. He stands inside the frame, dressed in full performance garb, worn-out tails and a turban with a dangling amulet. As he begins his demonstration, we hear the call to prayer in the background. He mumbles excuses, walks out of the frame, and the screen fades to black. When he returns, he starts a new. He performs the simplest of tricks, using ping-pong balls and white doves with a gravitas that contrasts sharply almost comically with his unkempt appearance, describing each scheme with seriousness and alternating between French and Arabic.

After a few minutes, the ridicule of his tattered claims of worldliness and cosmopolitan flair becomes compelling, even verging on the tragic. He ups the ante and explains that he is not only a magician but a fakir as well, noting that fakirs are very rare nowadays. This additional expertise enables him to swallow razor blades and put a chicken to sleep, which doesn't work at first but does after a second; Barrada intends to document her subject, the magician, in dialogue with the Western canon. Like the 'burners', el-Hamri looks at the West across the treacherous Strait, projecting self-realisation ambitions of securing a life with dignity. In his disposition and his recurrent references to the craft's conventions, acknowledged and traded worldwide, he stakes a claim to worldliness for himself. In reality, he is far from impressive or masterful but rather miserably parochial. The contrast between his self-presentation and his actual abilities embodies the contradiction at the heart of the city's economic, political and cultural 'resurgence'.  His real skills represent the jarring inequalities in production and consumption (in this case of symbolic 'goods') that separate Europe and Africa.

With The Smuggler (2006), the instructional look is more stubborn. It focuses on T.M., who has been trafficking fabric from the Spanish border town of Ceuta to Tangier for around thirty years. Barrada explains in the text that it appears first on the screen that, because she is an older woman, Tax and Customs Officers usually do not search inside her coat at the border. Standing in front of a backdrop of black curtains, next to a chair where the pieces of fabric are stacked, the elderly woman demonstrates how she wraps her body with piles of fabric in several layers, first around her torso, then around her waistline and back again. When she is done, she slips into her long djellaba, fitting it tightly around her thickened figure, covering the 'tax-free' smuggled goods entirely. She mutters a few words here and there, if at all. The motif of what is made visible and what is rendered invisible recurs again. It is central to T.M.'s life, much as Abdelouahid el-Hamri's. On the one hand, smuggling, trafficking, and illicit trading are historically endemic to all port cities' lives, and the video documents this one aspect of every day in Tangier.

Yto Barrada (born 1971) is a Moroccan visual artist. Her career isn't long, but her production has been steady. Since she moved back to Tangier from New York, her photographs, videos and wood models have been focused on the Moroccan city and its life. Driven by a compulsion to document, her video work has seemingly little regard for documentary film or video's dominant formal conventions. Its format seem driven by essentialism or (non-political) fundamentalism, bare to the extent that it is closer to video art than a documentary film.

︎ Complicitats

Festival Complicitats © All rights reserved.