portfolio of
a visual poet

A Space for Art in the Middle of the Desert


Following the destructive floods that damaged many houses in Samara camp in 2015, I lost my art works and books when my hand-built mud room collapsed. The room was my family’s living room, my working space, my library, my sewing workshop and my guest room. Few months later, I decided to establish a proper space for art. As I did not have funding to do it, I resorted to the discarded materials in my surroundings to build the physical space. Over the course of one full year, I was building and thinking. I developed skills. I solved problems and researched materials and methodologies to help me throughout the process. I investigated ways to respond to the desert hot environment. I was raising question about the role of art and how it can make interventions in situations of powerlessness and stagnation. The idea to build an art studio in a refugee camp was not convincing for many. That’s not what people expect to be of a priority in such a situation. I was thinking that a place to make art could help facilitate the birth of ideas and the creation of solutions. Upon completion, the studio started to host a series of art sessions and collaboration with Sahrawi and international artists and art organizations from Africa, Europe and North America. The studio is now is a creative hub for art creation and art education in Samara Camp.

THE GREAT WAVE OF PLASTICS

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai is an iconic artwork depicting man against nature. Nowadays man-made pollution causes more harm and damage to humanity and to nature. The plastic pollution resulting from mass plastic production, single use plastics and packaging all contribute to the global pollution in huge quantities and have reached some very distant places, deep in the ocean and even here in the middle of the Hamada Desert.

I was invited by Fair Saturday organization to join the movement of over 500 cities, 1000s of artists and organizations to create art with social and environmental impact. The movement is a counter response to Black Friday in America. For this I teamed up with the kids from Bubisher Library in Samara camp to create art using plastic waste from the streets and the surroundings area of Samara camp.

Over the course of three weeks in November 2018, and with some generous support from MPDL, I have been collecting different plastic products to visually re-create The Great Wave of Hokusai. The artwork is constructed on 3 pieces of plywood.

The Great Wave of Plastics is an awakening call for the alarming situation of plastic pollution, not just in the Saharawi refugee camps but all over the world. Hokusai may have seen the danger in the claws of the Tsunami in the Great Wave, but I think that plastic pollution is the new Tsunami. The work was exhibited in Samara Camp followed by lectures by health doctors, a two hour discussion and a participatory workshop on creative plastic reuse.

COMMUNITY ART TENT

Revisiting the Arts of the Nomads

The tent is the home for the Sahrawi. As nomads, it provided the best structure convenient to a lifestyle based on constant moving and camping. As refugees, it provided a space for the people to live together, eat together and share the shelter in an extreme desert environment. The Sahrawi tent has four doors facing the different directions. This is a very practical feature in the desert, when sandstorms blow from any direction; we close that door and open the opposite, but it also poetically symbolizes hospitality, the four doors are always open to welcome people from different directions. The open four doors allow communication with the outside world. People often exchange greetings and news with passers-by through the tent doors.

I was born and I still live in one such a tent. Last spring, I collaborated with the women in my community to put together a Sahrawi tent shaped by our everyday clothes and stories. The community art tent arrived in Finland in collaboration with Art School MAA. It acted as a moving sculpture for interaction, exploration, and co-learning. I used it as a studio and a discussion site with artists and scientists as well as a performance space. The tent was set up in different places in Finland experiencing the freedom to move from place to place; a nomad tent again. For the Sahrawi, the tent goes beyond the physical structure, in Hassaniya, our oral language; the word “tent” could also substitute the word “family”. Nobody in my community would find it difficult to understand if I asked “how is the tent” that I’m actually asking how their family is doing. The tent is the strongest reference to family and community bond. The Sahrawi nomadic tent opens up questions of minimalism, adaptability, shared spaces and the sense of community in the very place we call home.