Artist Profile: Bouchra Khalili

The Mapping Journey Project” (2008-2011) at the New Museum (Courtesy of the New Museum, Photo: Benoit Pailley).

by Rachel Heidenry

A hand, a voice, a map.

Bouchra Khalili’s “The Mapping Journey Project” – currently installed in the New Museum’s Here and Elsewhere exhibition – is simplistically profound. The artist invites immigrants to share their journey – literally. Provided with a map and a permanent marker, they narrate pathways and memories by connecting the dots of the cities they passed through. The visualizations conjured in the viewer as more lines are added to the map offer an innate sense of distance. Not only is the viewer reminded of danger, migration and territory, but also of hopes, fears and dreams. Some journeys are short and direct, others long and circuitous. All are revelatory.

During the creation of “The Mapping Journey Project,” the artist traveled extensively to places like Marseilles, Ramallah, Rome, Barcelona and Istanbul, striking up conversations with individuals. Her subjects were people she organically met, some even finding her. While the end project is certainly curated and arranged, the process of meeting her subjects remained in the realm of the encounter and based in conversation.

The Mapping Journey Project. Video Installation, 8 single channels, 2008-2011. Variable dimensions. View at The Opposite of the Voice-Over, solo show, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Toronto, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Polaris.

Throughout her work, Kahlili is largely inspired by what Roland Barthes’ called “the grain of the voice” – in which the imagined is generated from the subject’s narrative. The immigrant becomes humanized by the process of narrating, or, in other words, reminds us of his/her humanness through the process of narrating. And yet the fact that we only see their hands and hear their voices, reminds the viewer of the reality that immigrants still live in the shadows. While their story can be heard, their faces still cannot.

Speeches – Chapter 1: Mother Tongue. Digital Film, 2012, 23′, from The Speeches Series (video trilogy, 2012-2013). View at Intense Proximity, La Triennale, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris.

“Je suis mi langue,” Speeches, Installation vidéo 5 vidéos projetées simultanément. Photo courtesy of Galerie of Marseille.

Moroccan born Bouchra Kahlili lives and works between Berlin and Paris. Throughout her art, she remains innately concerned with the social, particularly ideas such as citizenship, identity and nationhood. Film and video are her primary mediums, offering Kahlili a space to re-narrate the narrated. In another project, “Speeches,” she asks individuals to give accounts of their lives and relate it back to larger questions regarding politics and economics. Despite her overt political interests, the artist is always dedicated to form and highly aware of her role as creator and the consequences of how her hand and vision come into play. She understands when to be seen and, more important, when to be invisible.

Bouchra Khalili, Speeches – Chapter 3: Living Labour, 2013., Five-channel digital color video installation, with sound. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris.

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