Home Magazine The invisible paths of Bouchra Khalili...

Nomadism is the general historical condition of the homeless, of those for whom the horizon of historical belonging has been shattered. These migrating bodies during their journey find themselves confronted with different societies, that is, with a product of overlaps, a box in which there is an endless list of conquests, interactions between different ethnic groups, pains and traumas subject to a new beginning.

To the artist, as well as to the many figures of intellectuals and critics who have followed one another over the years, what remains is to analyze these traces, understand their complexities, and then attribute them new and more far-sighted meanings. It is on this trail of investigations that the works of the Moroccan Bouchra Khalili (1975), can be gathered a different translation of these static signs.

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Bouchra Khalili works with films, installations, photographs and prints, with the aim of creating a great platform in which the members of the political minority, the illegal immigrants, those who are forced to migrate: due to a wall, a war, hunger or the impossibility of being able to express themselves, tell, and share new strategies and discourses of resistance to an imposed system. Trained in cinema at the Sorbonne Nouvelle and Fine Arts at École Nationale Supérieure d'Arts in Paris, the artist has always been attracted by a sharp oral narrative, there are never bloody or traumatizing scenes to animate her videos, but just the voices of who has chosen to challenge harsh policies, historical speculations, indefinable declarations of citizenship and by desire belonging to a specific community.

To create ‘The Mapping Journey Project’, Khalili travelled to Marseilles, Ramallah, Bari, Rome, Barcelona and Istanbul – the arteries of trafficking and trade. She walked around each city with maps and a fistful of permanent markers in her bag. She didn’t go searching for her subjects but rather waited for an occasion to meet them. ‘Sometimes they find me rather than I them,’ she says. «The encounter occurs from the moment I accept to get lost in a city. And from that moment, there are lots of conversations. Sometimes they have nothing to do with the project. The approach I have developed over the years to avoid pathos and sentimentality is listening. I only ask a few questions, but they are always factual and precise.

(Kaelen Wilson Goldie, The land and the sea; the mapping of clandestine journeys; the intertwining of personal stories and politics, «Frieze» 1 Nov. 2011) 


Bouchra Khalili. Courtesy The Vera List Center


Bouchra Khalili, The Mapping Journey Project, 2008-2011. Courtesy MoMA Museum


Her work gives form to their geographical movements and treats their stories as a radical expression of agency. The first important project that allowed Bouchra to be recognized by the great international circuit of contemporary art, is "The Mapping Journey Project", realized between 2008 and 2011. For "The Mapping Journey Project", Khalili met the subject of each video through chance encounters in cities in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East that are transitory hubs for the movement of people and goods. Khalili asked these individuals to narrate their journey from their original home to their current location by tracing their path in marker on a two-dimensional map. Individuals'faces are never revealed; instead, the camera follows their stops and starts, detours and diversions across the surface of the page. The series follows journeys from Somalia to Bari, Bangladesh to Rome, Ramallah to Jerusalem, and other destinations even further afield.

The narrators of Khalili's videos each embark upon their journeys for a variety of reasons - to escape war or discrimination, to earn a better living, or for simpler tasks, like visiting loved ones - but all of them have been restricted due to political conflict. Describing the piece as an attempt at "Knocking down the vocation of mapping as a tool of power", Khalili highlights the emotional lives of these individuals and exposes the visible boundaries that control freedom for stateless people. Her pieces tray to articulate how structures of power contain, silence and displace disenfranchised individuals across the world - in particular, the over one million immigrants who risked their lives to enter Europe in 2016.

Cover image: Bouchra Khalili, The Mapping Journey Project, 2008-2011. Courtesy MoMA Museum

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