Cornered (work in progress)

Cornered is a video installation that represents the motivation and struggles of migrants leaving their home country and making an attempt, most often failed, to cross the border from Morocco to the Spanish cities of Melilla and Ceuta, the only European cities on Africa’s mainland.

The visual imagery focuses on the ambitions and struggles of the migrants, from the journey from their home country to the many attempts to enter Spain, and the frustration of the perpetual effort to reach their dream - the dream of a better life for their families.

In the past couple of years, reinforcement on the borders of Ceuta & Melilla has occurred by increasing the layering of and razor wire on the fencing, as well as adding cameras and guards. This made crossing the border almost impossible. When aspiring immigrants try and fail in the process, they are often beaten and have their papers taken away. Then they are sent hundreds of kilometers away, to Rabat, Fes or Casablanca. Soon they try again and fail, and try and fail, as if in an infinite loop that has no exit: They are trapped in Morocco, which they cannot leave towards Spain, and without papers they can’t go back to their home countries, either. They are trapped in the forest where each day, they hide and run from the police. They are trapped, as they appear to be inside the dome created for this installation. They are trapped, but still they have hope.

The installation will consist of video projections on a stylized structure, which reminisces a Moroccan table, covered on top by a screened dome. The images are viewed by walking around the structure. The interior of the structure contains a short throw projector, with the dome as a rear-projection screen.

The visual style of the video projection is based on African art from countries where the migration via Morocco often originates (Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali to name a few). The color palette focuses on black silhouettes that are faceless placeholders for the many human beings in a similar situation. These silhouettes represent the darkness and frustration of the journey and at the same time reflect the physical beauty and skilled craftsmanship of the African people, some of whom use black to symbolize wisdom. The black figures will be contrasted by incorporating vibrant colors that are familiar from African fabrics, patterns and paintings.

The video combines real footage and animation, and the projection scale varies by using different numbers of screens (the dome is framed with triangles/hexagons). Sometimes, only one animation will cover the entire projection surface. Other times, the multi-video will utilize each individual facet or just a few at a time.

Jonathan Henderson and his music group Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba are composing a musical score for the installation. Jonathan is a North Carolina-based multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer currently pursing a PhD in ethnomusicology at Duke University. Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba's music is steeped in ancient West African griot traditions, but propelled into the 21st century by the modernizing impulses of a rock band format. Video and sound will work together to create an ambivalent atmosphere of frustration and hope.

The structure of the table and dome will be made of a wooden frame. Its design will be based on Islamic geometric patterns often used in Moroccan architecture using hexagons as a base for the design. The frame itself will be decorated with embedded geometric patterns that are frequently found on Moroccan doors and furniture. The final engravings will be created with a laser cutting process.

Cedar wood is often used in Morocco. Because of sustainability concerns the wooden frame of the dome will be created with a combination of reclaimed cedar and pinewood, which is also used by Moroccan craftsmen. The light color of the pinewood is blackened with a special treatment to give the appearance of Ebony. The projection screen will be created with white silk, often used on Moroccan fabrics. In contrast with the beauty and craftsmanship of Moroccan art, the frame will have spikes embedded on the frame as a reminder of the fence wire that people encounter at the frontier.

For the first iteration of the installation, the dome structure was created using a 3D-printable geodesic connector system, hardwood dowels to connect the structure and tracing paper to use as the rear projection screen.

During last year, Yuchen Zhao (photo above) and I worked on technological difficulties of projecting onto a dome without distorting the visuals. We finally created a 3D model of the dome and used UV Mapping in order to know where the triangles from our dome would be located in a 2D image.

During the spring of 2018, I am focusing on designing and constructing the wooden structure, including the patterns that will be engraved in the wooden frames. The structure is schedule to be finished in April 2018. After that, I will be focusing entirely on the most complex and innovative part of the project, telling my story through the integration of multifaceted video with the physical and three-dimensional structure of the dome. My goal is to film at the end of the semester and the beginning of summer.

The video installation is scheduled to open in October 2018 at the Rubenstein Arts Center at Duke University. The installation is part of a small experimental exhibition about migration in and around Europe, which will be held at the Nasher Museum from September 2018 to January 2019. The exhibition is organized by In Transit, a working group that relies on art to provide context to the ongoing global refugee crisis. The exhibition focusses on two major zones of migration: Northern Europe, from the region around Calais, Flanders and the Low countries, and Southern Europe, from Islamic Spain to the African Maghreb. The viewers will discover early modern works of art alongside contemporary creations.


Cornered would not be possible with the support of the Duke Africa Initiative, Duke Arts, the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation, the Arts & Sciences Council, the Art, Art History & Visual Studies department at Duke, the Arts & Sciences Council and the Puffin Foundation