She is Me and I am Her
Yto Barrada’s Homage to Ethnologist Thérèse Rivière

Thérèse Rivière is often characterzed as “the Camille Claudel of French ethnology.” And not without good reason, as there are indeed parallels between the lives of these women. Both the sculptor and the ethnologist had important achievements, both had psychological problems, both were locked away in psychiatric wards, and both were almost completely forgotten. For some time now, Yto Barrada has dealt with the life and work of Thérèse Rivière, who undertook a two-year expedition in the rugged mountain landscape of Aurès in northeastern Algeria. Rivière studied the lives of the Berber people there, focusing on their handicrafts and the situation of women and children. She brought back 857 objects for the collection of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, which she documented meticulously.

Along with Rivière’s drawings and notebooks, these objects inspired Barrada to create works such as the installation Objets indociles (Supplément à la vie de Thérèse Rivière), which was on view at the Centre Pompidou in 2016. This slightly surreal reconstruction of Rivière’s bedroom is akin to a historical exhibit from an ethnological museum. And her most recent exhibitionMoi je suis la langue et vous êtes les dents, in the project space of Lisbon’s Calouste Gulbenkian Museum also revolves around Rivière. Barrada’s drawings, films, and installations are based on the ethnologist’s enormous collection of material, which includes both scientific and autobiographical documents. The artist feels closely connected to Rivière – “elle – moi, moi – elle” (she – me, me – her) Barrada writes in a text, and includes references to her own family’s history in the exhibition, for example photographs and notebooks of her grandmother. The latter couldn’t write and therefore developed a script consisting of graphic symbols.  

This very personal homage to Rivière brings together many themes that have interested Barrada since the beginning of her artistic career: the Maghreb region, which the artist, who grew up in Tangier, Morocco, and now lives in New York, has explored repeatedly – for example in Riffs her exhibition as Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2011 at the former Deutsche Guggenheim. Added to that is Barrada’s interest in handicrafts, which the former student of history and anthropology has integrated in many of her works. And of course the exhibition in Lisbon also engages with a subject that runs through her entire oeuvre like a red thread: her solidarity with the weak, the fragile, and people threatened with disappearance.

Yto Barrada
Moi je suis la langue et vous êtes les dents

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Project Space, Lisbon
February 8 – May 6, 2019