The Maghreb Connection | 2006

Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, December 2006 | Centre D’art Contemportain, Geneva, February 2007 | La Rotonde de l’Art, Abidjan, Ivory Coast June 2009 | Bamako Biennial of Photography, Mali, November 2009


THE MAGHREB CONNECTION is a collaborative art and visual research project on the North African migratory space. A special focus is placed on Sub-Saharan transit migration-now the dominant and undoubtedly the most highly mediatized form of movement in the region-which has turned the Maghreb into a transit zone. In response to the human conditions under which trans-Saharan migration takes place and the dramatizing media images and calls for border reinforcements that it has brought forth, THE MAGHREB CONNECTION sets out to intervene in the current discursive and visual representations with a contribution of new videos, photo series and research essays. In the course of eighteen months, eight art projects were developed in dialogue with each other. They brought us out into the field and made us engage in collaborations with scholars, researchers, NGO activists on location and with many migrants who were on their perilous way through North Africa.

With art projects by DOA ALY (Cairo), YTO BARRADA (Tangier), RAPHAËL CUOMO/MARIA IORIO (Geneva), HALA ELKOUSSY (Cairo), CHARLES HELLER (Geneva), URSULA BIEMANN, (Zurich), HELENA MALENO (Tangier) in collaboration with media/design activists OBSERVATORIO TECNOLOGICO DEL ESTRECHO (Malaga), ARMIN LINKE (Milan) and CAMILLE PONCET/MOUHAMED COULIBALY-MASSASSI (esba Geneva).

Opening conference with ALI BENSAÂD, geographer, Research Institute of the Arab and Muslim World (Marseille), MICHEL AGIER, urban anthropologist, Centre for African Studies, EHESS (Paris)
MEHDI ALIOUA, sociologist (Rabat/Toulouse), BRIAN HOLMES, art critic and essayist (Paris) and the artists.


The Townhouse Gallery, Cairo
December 11, 2006 – January 13, 2007

Center for Contemporary Art Geneva
February 24 – April 22, 2007

Ecole Supérieure de Beaux-Arts, Le Mans/France
March 14 – 30, 2008

La Rotonde des Arts Contemporains, Abidjan, Ivory Coast
May 22 – June 22, 2009

La Biennale de Photographie Bamako, Mali
November 7 – December 7, 2009

THE MAGHREB CONNECTION is a research project initiated and directed by Ursula Biemann. The development and production of the exhibition project and the publication has been funded by PRO HELVETIA Swiss Arts Council, Cairo. The conference and the publication has been generously supported by Heinrich Boell Foundation Middle East Office. The research is based at the Ecole Supérieure de Beaux Arts, Geneva and the Institute for Art and Design Theory, HGKZ Zurich. The exhibition will travel to the CAC Geneva who contributed also to the publication.


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 destinations for migrants coming through the Suez canal. After in-depth research and investigation, the artists present a series of works under various forms, such as cartography, video, photography, text or animation.