“When I moved from Tangier to New York in 2012, my galleries were a bit concerned: what would I have to say, once I no longer lived atop the source of all my preoccupations? I discovered there was Another Tangier. An island in Chesapeake bay of Virginia, just a few hours drive from NYC... and a little research revealed that not only did this Tangier have a particular name – it was, like the Moroccan version, one of the more interesting places on earth.
The landmass these Tangiermen inhabit has shrunk 67% since climate change began; scientists predict that the town will surrender to the rising sea levels in the coming decades.
The population of around 500 mostly subsist from soft-shell crabs and tourism. When I visited though, the most striking aspect of Tangier was that I couldn’t understand anything they said.
This insular culture has preserved a heirloom variety of British-English, spiced with the twang of the American South, rendered even more impenetrable by a local idiomatic patois. An unattractive person “ain’t hard favored;” to a smelly person, you might say “Wait a bit, you’re sweet!” And best of all, of a woman who, like me, talks a lot, Tangiermen would say: “She could talk a flood tide down.”
Goodman Gallery is pleased to present She Could Talk a Flood Tide Down, Yto Barrada’s first solo exhibition in Johannesburg and the first with the gallery. By bringing together diverse projects, the exhibition highlights Barrada’s long-established interest in alternative forms of learning, such as mnemonics and spaces of play, as a valuable source of knowledge. The exhibition coincides with Barrada’s solo presentation at The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Yto Barrada: Ways to Baffle the Wind, on view until July 2023.
She Could Talk a Flood Tide Down engages different aspects of language and play — and through humour allows for deeper reflection and a closer reading of objects, materials and processes.
The exhibition includes the much-anticipated film Continental Drift (2021). The film-collage assembles Super 8mm film diaries, footage taken over eight years across the US and Morocco, including the rituals of the Grand Socco plaza, home of the Cinematheque de Tanger, the arthouse and cultural center which Barrada founded in 2006. The film also offers a first glimpse of The Mothership, a forest garden and botanical garden of dye plants, and artist residency, founded by the artist. Continental Drift also introduces Tangier characters like the Public Writer; and, as narrator of sorts, an english autodidact who collects Magic Lantern slides and channels local history. In a brief, chilling sequence, the camera has a close encounter with the aging thug who ‘disappeared” Barrada’s own grandfather in the 1950’s.
The intersection of cinema and the archive, themes that often recur in her practice, bring attention to the rigidity of zones and territories while also considering the struggles of sovereignty and migratory flows.
In the turbulent summer of 1966,Yto Barrada’s mother, a 23-year-old Moroccan student, was one of 50 ‘Young African Leaders’ invited on a State Department–sponsored tour of the USA.Through play, poetry, and humor, the film Tree Identification for Beginners examines this stage- managed encounter between North America and Africa, and the nascent spirit of disobedience – the Pan-African,Tricontinental, Black Power, and anti-Vietnam war movements – that would come to define a generation.The film brings together 16mm stop-motion animation of Montessori educational toys with voiceovers from Barrada’s mother and other Crossroads Africa participants, as well as historic figures such as Civil Rights activist Stokely Carmichael.The audio effects were created by Barrada and professional Foley artists using noise-making tools in a sound studio.Tree Identification for Beginners also embodies Barrada’s research into form, abstraction, and spatial organization; the installation includes curtains hand- stitched with Montessori grammatical symbols and dyed with pre-industrial colors.
The Moroccan-French artist’s first performance abstractly combines archival research, family history, film, textile painting, and toys to explore the story of her mother’s coming to terms with Pan-African and Black Power political movements while visiting the U.S. in 1966, as part of the Operation Crossroads Africa program.
The series of photographs, Plumber Assemblage, Fig.1 - 10, Tangier (2014) considers the romanticism attached to objects characterized as ‘foreign’ and through this process, examines how value is assigned. Found objects such as pipes, faucets, and spigots, which are reused in assemblages by plumbers to advertise their services, are placed outside of their typical context in poses that reconfigure their meaning.
Within the exhibition, Barrada considers the history of place through a reflection on water and land — land reshaped by water; sinking islands and cities at risk of disappearing — through the lens of children’s participation in the construction of the world, inspired by artist Simon Nicholson’s 1971 anti-elitist essay, “How NOT to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts.”
Land and Water Forms is a series of paintings inspired by Montessori school practices, used to teach children about geography through visual inversion. In the works, landforms are paired and transposed — island/lake, archipelago/lake system, isthmus/canal —drawing attention to the interconnections between physical structures and substances of the earth.
Through humour, works such as Mnemonic Phrases (2019) explore mnemonic devices beyond their linguistic function, placing them within the rhythm of history where found sentences, much like found objects, perform themselves. Fragments of materials interact with each other as self-made tools that inspire new techniques — for instance, cardboard cutouts from the collaged works in Grinding Teeth (2020) are often used as paintbrushes to create other paintings, suggesting synchronicity across mediums.
Salient to Barrada’s practice are concepts of pleasure, discovery and analysis, which are formulated through key works that experiment with materials (rust, cotton, natural dyes) and traditional processes. Her methodology is influenced by her background in history and political science. By using visual, textual and sculptural relics, the exhibition finds points of anchorage in historical narrative and aesthetic imagination and simultaneously condenses and stretches the frame of time.