Yto Barrada: “I Hate the Large Photographs of Artists in the Entrance of Exhibitions”

The artist takes five minutes out of her day to answer our eight questions.

La Gâche de papier, 2019

Yto Barrada’s artistic practice stems from her studies of history and political science, as well as her dual French and Moroccan citizenship. She uses photography, film, installation, painting, community initiatives and more to pose questions concerning geographical borders, cultural legacies and alternate forms of communication, paying particular attention to the context of Tangier.

This might take the form of a dilapidated, light-up palm tree that distils the gentrification and exoticised tourism evident in Morocco, for instance. Or the establishment of the non-profit Cinémathèque de Tanger, where archives of Arabic and Maghreb film are preserved and screened.

More recently, Barrada has been working on setting up The Mothership, which will serve as a colour and textile research centre, complete with a botanical garden. Her latest exhibition at Massachusetts MoCA considers humankind’s vain attempts to control and regulate nature.

A Dyer’s Sample Book, 2018

If you could save only one item from your studio, what would it be?

I would hesitate between my archive of photo and film negatives and my children’s art.

What was the last art material you bought to use in your work?

VoidFill packaging material.

Land and Water Forms (For Bettina), 2021

What is your go-to song when you’re working in the studio?

These days, I’ll play George Clinton, French oldies and Habibi Funk collections on Spotify, or Criterion Channel films that I listen to but don’t watch.

“Cairo’s Agricultural Museum is a big favourite: science museums and botanical libraries are very special”

Which single work of art would you choose to live alongside in your home?

A small James McBey painting of flowers and cigarettes that my mother gave me.

Sleep Paralysis, 2021

Top three art or photography books?

Œuvres by Fernand Deligny (1913-1996), published by L’Arachnéen, and the catalogues: Okwui Enwezor’s The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 and The Stuff That Matters: Textiles Collected by Seth Siegelaub for the CSROT

If money was no object, what would you most like to experiment with in your work?

I would build all the studio spaces we’ve designed, and renovate the Dye House of The Mothership, the workshop-garden and artist residency we are making in Tangier.

“When I work I’ll have Criterion Channel films on that I listen to but don’t watch”

Untitled (Ibn Battuta 1), 2019

Tell us a pet peeve of yours when it comes to the art world.

The lack of benches in art galleries and large photographs of artists portraits in the entrance of exhibitions.

What is your favourite gallery or museum space around the world?

That’s a tough one. Cairo’s Agricultural Museum is a big favourite: science museums and botanical libraries are very special. When I was very young, I loved the Gustave Moreau museum in Paris. In Tangier, I miss the Malcolm Forbes’ tin soldier house-museum. It doesn’t exist anymore: it was transformed into a private guest house.

Holly Black is Elephant’s managing editor

Listen to all the go-to songs picked by our 5 Minutes With artists here.


Yto Barrada: Ways to the Wind

MASS MoCA, Massachusetts, until 29 May 2022