"She Hits the Nerve of the Times"
Press on Yto Barrada at Deutsche Guggenheim
With "Riffs" Yto Barrada has realized her first solo exhibition in Germany as Deutsche Bank’s "Artist of the Year". The exhibition at Deutsche Guggenheim presents photos, films, installations and sculptures that focus on the situation of her Moroccan hometown Tangier. For the media, one thing is for certain: The current upheavals in the North African and Arab countries lend a special significance to this exhibition.
"No question, Barrada’s craft is the political iconography, her committment to the poor and oppressed people in her country. She’s the classic personification of the cultural opposition that also played a role in Tunesia and Egypt," Carsten Probst remarks in his feature for Deutschlandradio Kultur. "Her exhibition offers an impressive insight into a cultural scene that, more often than not, is totally alien to Europeans." The radio station even devotes a second feature to Deutsche Bank’s "Artist of the Year" 2011, in which Barrada herself comments on the current political events.
Birgit Sonna from art emphasizes the specific vision of the artist: "Baradda’s work is never documentary in a literal sense. (...) She precludes any kind of voyeurism." The TV channel Arte also reports on the exhibition at Deutsche Guggenheim: "Barrada’s photographies demand a closer view. Her works are rarely political statements for one side or the other. She’s more interested in ambiguities." The report concludes: "In any case, an exhibition worth seeing." The Berlin TV station rbb also covers the show: "Yto Barrada takes pictures of her native country: pictures of a country in transition, images full of melancholia." For Gabriela Walde of Berliner Morgenpost, Deutsche Bank’s choice of Barrada as "Artist of the Year" "comes as no surprise: she hits the nerve of the times in her films, photographies and sculptures which focus on her home country Morocco. Like the Kenian artist Wangeshi Mutu last year, Barrada is also an artist who deals with current (political) developments."
In the daily paper Tagesspiegel, Daniel Grinstedt remarks: "The approximately sixty works at Deutsche Guggenheim offer an impressive cross-section of her oeuvre over the last fifteen years." Grinstedt is particularly excited about the photographic works: "The artist captures a country in transition and seizes the ephemeral (...) These are fascinating images that are touching in an unsentimental way." Sebastian Preuss of Berliner Zeitung has a more ambivalent view: "Most of it appears somewhat marginal (...) Everything and nothing can be read into these images. That’s part of their appeal but also their problem. (...) It’s exactly that kind of "critical" art preferred by the international establishment. And most of the times that means: aura instead of clarity, association instead of argumentation, aesthetics instead of education." Similarly, Catrin Lorch argues in Süddeutsche Zeitung: "The art world likes to see such motifs: photographs that appear as if one were looking past the gruesome images of the news and magazines."
In taz, Brigitte Werneburg first takes a look at the "amazingly versatile" exhibition space of Deutsche Guggenheim: "On some occasions, it’s the timeless White Cube in whose enraptured atmosphere a few selected exhibits make their auratic appearance. At other times, as in this case with Yto Barrada, it turns into an adventure playground with all kinds of galleries and video vaults." She particularly appreciates the photographic works of the artist because they refrain from making catchy political statements: "Yto Barrada’s pictures make an indirect argument by playing off the cushion, so to speak. They hit the mark without aiming at it directly. They shift our attention to a somewhat marginal detail that eventually turns out to be treacherous and decisive, leading our view and our thought to the true theme and the core of the problem." Similarly, Silke Hohmann from Monopol observes: Despite the "strong background noise of current political events," the show is more than just an illustration of problems. "As a photographer, Barrada eludes exoticistic interpretations. And so her works challenge the Western European view to forget the images from the news and preconceived messages." Her bottom line: "As 'Artist of the Year' 2011, Deutsche Bank doesn’t honor a representative from an Arab country but an intelligent artist with a finger on the pulse of her time."