Bouchra Khalili’s work often explores boundaries: their obviously geographic shapes, which are social, cultural and historical, too, through a very broad range of media operating through sometimes unexpected associations. Her exhibitions in themselves are devised as territories through which visitors must find their own way, establish their own map amid works combining individual narratives et collective history around use of personal accounts and historiography.
The Mapping Journey Project (2018-2011) is one of her emblematic works. It is made up of eight videos, The Mapping Journey, and eight silkscreen prints, The Constellations. Each screen displays a close-up of a planispheric map on an off-screen migrant’s hand traces with a marker the road to exile he/she was forced to take along a clandestine road, full of dangers, often backtracking, wrong tracks and deportation. The maps support the voice-over narrative. Visitors can thus discover another geography, one of experience, singular migratory trajectories confronted with geonormalised spaces. The eight silkscreen prints duplicate each one’s path on a blank page and, off the map and disregarding mapping codes, these paths become drawings recollecting constellations of stars, for a map of the Zodiac reinvented in opposition to fragmented space constrained by humans.
“ My fascination with maps and atlases includes affection for the theme of constellations. Such celestial maps were produced by people who were constantly at risk of losing their way — sailors, seafarers — and, for centuries, watched the stars to find their way at sea. (…) And if the constellation is a recurrent theme, it is because it is a way of creating ties between isolated elements, with no hierarchy, thereby formulating an egalitarian postulate. No narrative prevails over another; they have things to exchange. “
Although her work addresses issues shaking the world today, Bouchra Khalili does not want to be labelled a militant artist, especially not as an artist who ‘gives a voice’, but rather as one who ‘organises devices for giving a voice’, a voice that is ‘civic poetry’ opening the way to devising an exhibition area as ‘civic space’ in which to play out the idea of a truly egalitarian community.
Cover: Bouchra Khalili. Installation view of The Mapping Journey Project. 2008-2011. Eight-channel video (color, sound). © 2016 Bouchra Khalili, © Adagp, Paris, 2019