Maps and Blackboards: Representing People’s Liberation Struggles

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Article published in The Funambulist 18 (July-August 2018) Cartography & Power. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

This interview is an email exchange with Bouchra Khalili. She is a Moroccan French artist “working with film, installation, photography, and prints. […] Each of her projects investigates strategies and discourses of resistance as elaborated, developed and narrated by individuals, often members of political minorities.” She participated to numerous exhibitions, the most recent one being a large monographic one entitled “Blackboard” at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. In this conversation, we address the way she relates to cartography in four historical and political researches that her artwork materializes.

LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: It is my hypothesis that cartography is omnipresent in your work. Sometimes, it is more explicit and obvious than others, but it is always there, somehow. Perhaps we can start with these most explicit examples. The “Mapping Journey Project” (2008-2011) is one of them, as its very title indicates. It consists in eight films in which the viewers see a hand tracing a path on a map — seven of them showing parts of North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean Sea and Europe, the last one showing the area between Ramallah and Jerusalem in Palestine. A voice accompanies the trace in telling the story of a transcontinental displacement (or a much reduced one in Palestine) with its numerous obstacles, its dead ends, its occasional returns to square one, etc. Ever since I saw these films in 2014, they have embodied for me the most sensible way to map and express the movement of the numerous exiles who are seeking in Europe an escape from extremely precarious conditions of life due to wars or economic disparities, in which Europe has itself a historical responsibility. Far from the thick arrows and their linearity that respectively suggest massive migrations and unobstructed trajectories, the cartographies you have created with the first concerned by what is mapped are, on the contrary, insisting on the duress of these displacements but without the pathos that always fails to fuel durable mobilizations. Could you describe how the potential cinematographic dimension of cartography allows such a sensible and sensitive expression?