Yto Barrada

Yto Barrada, Girl in Red, Tangier, 1999 (2007.7.1)

When the European Union implemented the Schengen Agreement in 1985, Moroccans without visas were no longer allowed to freely cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe. People continued to leave the country, in search of better economic opportunities, making the Strait an area of illegal passage. Yto Barrada, a French-Moroccan photographer, began working on the series “A Life Full of Holes” in 1998, with an interest in documenting how the desire to leave inscribes itself in the everyday lives of Tangiers’ inhabitants and the city’s public and private spaces. A constant throughout the series is the many people photographed with their backs to the camera (as seen here, in the Girl in Red, Tangier). Indeed, this lack of interaction with Barrada (and by extension the viewer) suggests the alienation that results from a society preoccupied with leaving for another place.

In an effort to increase the country’s economic viability, the Moroccan government has set up a number of Free Trade Zones, with the largest in Tangiers. The lure of low taxes coupled with inexpensive labor is meant to entice companies to Morocco, provide jobs, and revitalize the nation. Whether this is a better deal for the Moroccan government or for the foreign investors they are pandering to is certainly debatable. In her series, Barrada traces the response of Moroccans to both the forces of globalization that have contributed to the institution of Free Trade Zones and the effects of the closed border. Their responses can be found in the minutiae of everyday life and it is these moments that Barrada captures, realizing that they communicate the experience of living in a society that is struggling to subsist as a result of departure and loss.


Yto Barrada, The Belt, Step 1 to 9, 2006 (2009.73.1)

Yto Barrada was born in Paris in 1971 and was educated in Tangier. She later studied history and political science at the Sorbonne and photography at the International Center of Photography.
In her photographs and video works, Barrada takes an oblique and dispassionate approach to presenting the political and social realities of life in Morocco. As a dual citizen of France and Morocco, Barrada is able to travel freely between Europe and Morocco but due to tightened security and EU laws it has become increasingly difficult for most Moroccans to travel or emigrate. Since the early 1990s the Straight of Gibraltar has become one of the main gateways for illegal immigration, and in her series The Straight Project: A Life Full of Holes, Barrada captures the temptations of leaving and the unfulfilled hopes of escaping from Morocco into Europe. A number of subjects have their backs to the camera or their faces obscured, a deliberate choice by the photographer to represent the idea of turning one’s back on one’s home country by those trying to cross the border. Her subsequent project, Iris Tingitana, once again centers on Tangier, and how developers’ monocultural vision for the outskirts of the city threatens to homogenize landscapes and human lives.
Barrada’s works are held in public collections including the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; the Solomon Guggenheim Museum; and the Tate Modern.

Mary O’Donnell Hulme. Source:

The artist’s website:

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