press release

The Townhouse Gallery is pleased to present “The Maghreb connection - Movements of Life across North Africa”, an international project of art and research directed by Swiss artist and curator Ursula Biemann. This project features works by artists Doa Aly (Cairo), Yto Barrada (Tangier), Raphaël Cuomo/Maria Iorio (Geneva), Hala El Koussy (Cairo), Charles Heller (Geneva), Ursula Biemann, (Zurich), Helena Maleno (Tangier) in collaboration with media/design activists Observatorio Tecnologico (Malaga) and the photographer Armin Linke (Milan).

Conference participants include Michel Agier (Paris), Ali Bensaâd (Marseille), Mehdi Alioua, Rabat/Toulouse), Brian Holmes and the artists.

The Maghreb Connection focuses on systems and modalities of migratory movements which constitute the Maghreb and Mediterranean area. From a range of aesthetic positions, the project seeks to develop discursive and visual representations of the growing complexity of North African mobility in relation with the development of the European Union.

In parallel to the agreements about “free movement” inside the European Union, its external borders are increasingly being sealed. In this new scheme, the Maghrebi migrants and those sub-Saharans who use the Maghreb as transit zone are perceived as a threat. While this notion of an invasion - largely spread by the European media - seems to legitimate the restrictive political measures concerning immigration, the European economy reaches further down into the Maghreb to establish giant transnational logistic centers or to find cheap labour for outsourced production. At this point, the relations between Europe and Africa have entered a new post-colonial phase.

In the Maghreb, migration flows rely on - and intersect with - other forms of organized mobility such as existing nomadic movements, tourism, roaming martial formations including rebel groups, and migration related humanitarian personnel. The junction of these movements generates synergies, conflicts, and sometimes surprising alliances. The Maghreb Connection aims to develop a visual representation of the connective space that emerges in the process. This geographic approach (geography being understood as a signifying system that allows us to understand the relation between subject, movement and space) focuses on specific zones of transit migration, such as Agadez in Niger, Lampedusa off the Tunisian shore, Oujda and Tangier in Morocco, Laayoune in the Western Sahara, Sicily and Cairo as a destinations for migrants coming through the Suez canal. After in-depth research and investigation, the artists present in the exhibition a series of works under various forms, such as cartography, video, photography, text or animation.

A fully illustrated catalogue, bilingual English/Arabic, is published by Ursula Biemann and Brian Holmes with Actar Barcelona. It includes texts by Medhi Alioua, Ali Bensaâd, Michel Agier and Keller Easterling, as well as research documentation on the artists’ projects.

A conference funded by Heinrich Boell Foundation Middle East will be held on December 11, 2006 at the Townhouse Gallery with the authors of the publication.

The exhibition will travel to the Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneva in February 2007.

The research project is based at the Ecole supérieure des beaux-arts Geneva and the Institute for Theory of Art and Design Zurich. The development of the project and the exhibition are supported by Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council, Cairo.


The Maghreb Connection
Movements of Life Across North Africa
An international project of art and research that includes cartography, photography, video, text, animation, and a fully illustrated bilingual English/Arabic catalogue, directed by Ursula Biemann
Ort: Townhouse Factory, Main Building, Annex, Townhouse

mit Doa Aly, Yto Barrada, Raphael Cuomo / Maria Iorio, Hala Elkoussy, Charles Heller, Ursula Biemann, Helena Maleno, Armin Linke