Barren

 

During my first visit to Morocco I saw the area between Chichacoua and Sidi Mokhtar, through the window of an intercity bus with worn green leatherette seats, as it rattled its way uphill, pouring out a black cloud of half-burned diesel fumes.


Situated halfway between the arid, desert city of Marrakech and the perennially drenched, sea-battered town of Essaouira is a vast expanse of barren wasteland where the only signs of life can be found along the “autoroute” that bisects the wilderness with a straight line as if drawn with a black felt tip pen. The flat, sandy ground, littered with rocks of every shape and size, and fully exposed to the merciless sun, has taken the rich color of brown sugar. The sky, misty from what little moisture manages to get there from the ocean, has shed its bright blue color so typically associated with Morocco, and is reduced to a dull blue, intersected by thin, sparse clouds.
 

The only signs of life are the cars that move along fast in the safety of the blacktop to get to the coastal resorts, as well as the occasional cart that uses the dirt roads intersecting the rocky ground to carry its owner and his wares to the nearest village. The handful of buildings, dry stone walls and pens are completely abandoned. A few human figures, draped with the distinctive djellaba, pass by over the hills on the horizon, taking quick glances below, before turning their heads and continuing on their way. It is as if this is a forbidden land, as if the moment you stop to rest or let your gaze wander on its rough surface, you will
turn to stone and become forever part of the landscape; a place where no one lives. Strictly for transit only!


This unphotogenic, seemingly unremarkable landscape was a revelation to me, but it also felt serendipitous: For years my work had been thematically focused within the parameters of human presence and activities, and seeing these images through the windows of that bus, I felt a rapid detachment from the multicolored noise and the bustle of the streets, an enforced immersion in the unobvious, in the two most primordial elements of creation: The land and the sky – just that.


It took me about ten years to work out the whys and wherefores of that experience, and when I felt that I had found the end of the thread, I returned to that place – with my own transportation this time – determined to unravel the mystery of its inexplicable attraction. 


Then and only then, when I found myself walking in the harrowingly barren landscape, did I manage to grasp the true enormity of absence and the dilemmas it poses to the visitor:
What is this place and how can it be dated? Is it “before” or “after”? Is it too new to have been populated, or is it too old and has been desolated after some kind of apocalypse? Is it a blank canvas waiting to be filled with colors by an artist, or the burned out remains of a glorious past, reminding us of our mortality and the futility of matter?

 

The music in the following video and the slideshow is by Alex K. I am deeply grateful, as I couldn’t hope for a more appropriate soundtrack to complement these images.

English translation by Panos Tomaras

The video:

The gallery:

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For a full-sized slide show click here.