Dry river the project that led to Visite à Okavango
A dry river sounds like a contradiction in terms. We think of a river, a waterway, as the ultimate original source. A source of life that carries with it a flow of microorganisms — and thus life itself. That which is dry is by no means devoid of life; nevertheless, its matter is heading towards an abrupt decline. The notion of a dry river is therefore absurd.
It is this very absurdity the artist examines here, for it is more evocative than a thousand explanations. A dry river is a perfect metaphor for the course of a civilization: birth-apogee-decline. After all, antiquity’s first four river valley civilizations (Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China) were able to grow by relying on larger water currents. These maritime sources fostered their expansion and extended their zone of influence.
Amine El Gotaibi, Dry river, project since 2007
When Amine El Gotaibi peered into a river, he saw the reflection of the nation-state. This led to questions about its organization, for as soon as a civilization develops, so does a form of State power. The contemporary State has a territory, a government, and a population. It is this organization that holds the legitimate political, legal, and tax power within its borders. Driven by his characteristic passion, El Gotaibi recreated mock-ups of rivers in the middle of nature. He dug grooves in the earth or sand in which he placed small white figurines. Using photography and a demiurgic gesture, he created scale models that gave him a wide range of artistic expression. The figurines became characters that reappeared in a variety of civilizational configurations. His use of natural materials here represented a pivotal stage in his work.
Those initial steps in 2007 eventually led him to the Okavango Delta, the birthplace of Homo sapiens. Isn’t it troubling to know that we originated in this region where water empties into the desert?
Views on the participative artwork : Attorab Al Watani (Territoire national) 2016. Work done on the entire Morocco
In 2016, a monumental project, At-torab al Watani/ National Territory explores the meaning of the phrase «etching one’s place in history» by combining performance, sculpture, photography and video. In order to finalize this work, El Gotaibi travels across the twelve regions of Morocco, according to the official breakdown. He digs his own name in gigantic letters in the earth, eight hours a day,
scrupulously observing a wage earner’s daily working hours. Through this labour, the artist extracts soil samples from each region out of which he builds a rammed earth construction, spelling out At-torab al Watani (National Territory), covering a seventeen meter surface. Resistance, perseverance, inscribing his name as an immanent and intimate trace, El Gotaibi explores anew the battle of the individual against the forces which marginalize him and deprive him of his right to fulfillment and creation.
Ba Moyi Ya Afrika
Though Amine El Gotaibi had planned to travel overland to sub-Saharan Africa for his project Visite à Okavango, which he imagined back in 2011, an invitation from the 2019 Young Congo Biennale short-circuited and stimulated his deepest aspirations. So he let himself be carried by the flow, energy, generosity, and rhythm of the place. This monumental installation emerged directly from that experience.
Ba moyi ya afrika. Monumental installation at the Young Congo Biennial, 2019
It is made of a seemingly rough frame with thirty-three spotlights attached to it. There could have been fifty-four, as many as there are countries on the continent.
Through its ultra-contemporary aesthetic structure, El Gotaibi’s installation is a response to how colonizing forces shaped Africa. This violence was inherent in the impunity of their conquest, their cruel domination over battered lands and individuals, and of course the imposition of a discourse that sought annihilation. Ba Moyi Ya Afrika is a powerful reclaiming of a unifying pan-African discourse through Art. In the distance, the reminiscence of the sun evokes an obvious metaphor: Africa, the Africas are lit from within and create their own light.
Sun(w)hole_Piece Cradle 1
Reclaiming tragic events allows us to better divert them from their essence. The power of the artist’s creative act moves us and undermines many of our preconceptions. In the South African landscape, the scars of apartheid are still visible. And they are revived by the general state of a world in which porous geopolitical borders are becoming tangibly hermetic. Amine El Gotaibi sought to counter this disenchantment through his work in the Nirox Foundation’s prestigious sculpture park, at the invitation of Marta Moriarty. His first inaugural wall, Piece cradle 1, is 15 meters long and 4 meters high. From a distance, this intriguing structure made of rammed earth is a parable reminding us of the need for civic and environmental vigilance. Up close, the wall-object reflects a transcendental ideal.
Sun(w)hole_Piece Cradle 1, Sculpture park of the Nirox Foundation,
South Africa, 2020.
Its position high on the hill has a calming effect. But after the agitation comes release, because the wall has a hole drilled in its center that serves to guide and showcase the sun’s rays at dawn and sunset. Following the path of these rays leads us back to our own emancipation. This liberatory escape is no longer hidden but revealed. El Gotaibi engages with what is truly meaningful, much like Beuys who wisely reminded us that the Berlin Wall was not important at all. What mattered most was our own introspections around the meaning of Art and Life.