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“A life full of holes: the Strait Project”, Yto Barrada

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
2 October 2005

Ceuta crossing

Ceuta crossing, Yto Barrada

This morning an estimated 700 African migrants stormed a high-security barrier at the Spanish enclave of Melilla, northern Morocco. Around 200 managed to get through, but most of them were arrested and sent back to Morocco by bus. This is not an isolated incident, and recent weeks have seen a surge in renewed attempts at illegal crossings into Spain.

In 1991 several EU countries signed the Schengen Agreement, which made travelling across Europe much easier for those with EU passports, but much harder for Moroccans trying to cross the Gibraltar Strait to get into Spain. What with Morocco’s increasing poverty, and a new generation of disaffected youth, the Strait has turned into a symbolic Berlin Wall.

Yto Barrada, a Parisian-born Moroccan photographer, captures this mood of longing, weariness and alienation in her book A life full of holes: the Strait Project. Asking the question: “What is the condition of a country whose people are all leaving, or trying to leave?”, she discovers a place in permanent transience and a population forever looking at the Spanish coastline for hope and a better life, yet rarely succeeding to reach their destination. Notably the Arabic word for “he migrated” is the same as “he burned”, and phrases such as “he burned his papers, his past, the law” have quickly become part of a new vocabulary associated with border crossings.

Images from the book are currently being exhibited at the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry, UK until 22 October.

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