Tree Identification for Beginners
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In the turbulent summer of 1966, the artist’s mother, a twenty-year old Moroccan student-socialist, was one of some fifty Young African Leaders invited on a tour in the US to ‘learn about democracy’, sponsored by the State Department. Starting from this episode, Yto Barrada – a visual artist and founding director of Cinémathèque de Tanger – creates Tree Identification for Beginners, a film accompanied by textile and sound, through which she follows her mother in her journey and attempt to hijack the US-proposed narrative and discover the emerging voices of the Pan-African and Black Power movements. Tree Identification for Beginners opens a territory at the intersection of political history, family story, myth and fiction. By playing with wooden children’s toys from the 60s, the film ironically shows how skill-learning of recognizing simple geometric shapes and stereotypical categorization of ‘the other’ overlap. A playful reflection on the similarities between political propaganda... and infantile pedagogy.
Maxwell Paparella & Kate Abernathy
Director of Photography
Steve Cossman & Yto Barrada Foley
Yto Barrada, Steve Cossman, Rachel Abernathy-Guma
Filipe Messeder & Matthew Curry
Voice Coach for Yto Barrada
Adrienne Edwards in the framework of Performa 17 (Afroglossia Film program)
Yto Barrada, Sanford Biggers, Allen Frame, Ashley Fure, Sean Gullette, Arana Hankin, Ishion Hutchinson, T. Geronimo Johnson, Peter Benson Miller
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, the Ford Foundation, Performa Commissioning Fund & Pace Gallery
Special thanks to
Mounira Bouzid El Alami, The Amistad Research Center, The American Academy in Rome, Ashley Fure, Ruy Garcia, Victoria Mangianello, Pace Gallery, Elodie Pong, Nadja Zimmerman, Mono No Aware, Tamara Corm, Jared Ellner
“I have been spending time in Tangier since 1989 – it’s where I met Barrada, who has since contributed substantially to the city’s cultural well-being by restoring the atmospheric 1940s Cinema Rif (now the Cinémathèque de Tanger) and transforming it into the country’s preeminent film archive as well as a hip meeting place and cultural center. Barrada’s naive wooden model of the cinema in the exhibition is part of a series that she made of all the old movie houses in the city. Many of the pieces in the show are made from fabrics that the indefatigable Barrada has dyed herself, stitching the panels together to create Frank Stella-esque pictures. She is currently planning to create a botanical garden in Tangier to showcase the 500 or so plants that can be used to create various tints. I’m heading to her studio in Brooklyn to try to match that perfect mauve – wish me well.
In all the years I have been visiting the city, though, I’ve never understood the strange rolling Dada contraptions of pipes and faucets that one occasionally sees on its sidewalks. In fact, they serve as tradesmen’s calling cards for itinerant plumbers, advertising both their wares and their availability to work. Barrada has gathered together a collection of them—she even brought some to the States for her installation.
Barrada’s politically engaged mother, Mounira Bouzid el Alami, founded Darna to provide a safe place for learning for women and children in the city. Her activism goes back decades. In 1966, she was invited by the State Department along with a group of fellow “young African leaders” for a “cultural appreciation” tour of the United States. From the State Department’s point of view, the visit can only have been a partial success, for while the participants were impressed by aspects of the United States’s infrastructure and technology, they were underwhelmed by its level of cultural sophistication. Piecing together her mother’s own words through her records and journals of this trip, along with the perspectives of the trip’s organizers, Barrada has created Tree Identification for Beginners (2017), a stop-motion animated film that uses Montessori toys to animate the narrative”.
From the article ‘A Moroccan Artist’s Love Letter to Tangier Explores Recollections Personal and Political in a New Exhibition’ by Hamish Bowlen for Vogue (April 6, 2018)Back to top
Yto Barrada is a Moroccan artist. She studied history and political science at the Sorbonne and photography in New York, where she now lives. Her work— including photography, film, sculpture, prints and installations—began by exploring the peculiar situation of her hometown Tangier. Barrada’s work has been exhibited at Tate Modern, the Barbican, MoMA, The Met, Renaissance Society, Witte de With, the Walker Art Centre, Whitechapel Gallery (London), and the 2007 and 2011 Venice Biennales. Barrada is also the founding director of the Cinémathèque de Tanger. She was the 2011 Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, the 2013 Robert Gardner Fellow in Photography (Peabody Museum at Harvard University), the 2015 Abraaj Group Art Prize winner and shortlisted for the 2016 Marcel Duchamp Award.