Avant Gardening

Yto Barrada’s Straight Project began in 1998 as a series of documentary photographs and other artworks made in and around the city of Tangier, Morocco. In the years since the project’s inception, Tangier has changed a great deal. With the government’s support, developers are transforming pastures, markets, forests, beaches, and historic buildings throughout the city into commercial properties, in what looks like a push to recreate Spain’s Costa del Sol — a dense sprawl of sunshine tourism and service economies. Iris tingitana, the “Moroccan Iris,” grows where the botanical landscape meets the urban. It shoots up among endangered wild owners on construction sites; among discarded sunflower-seed wrappers; among men sleeping in public parks; and among the clusters of pink geraniums — always out of season — crowding traffic islands. It is as if a new generation of decision makers has arrived bearing flowers, to mark the burial of the old Morocco.

In this new homogeneous landscape, the only indigenous species visible in public are those that have been branded by modernity or neatly framed by their folkloric status. As Barrada documents these developments, her portraits of plants may quietly — and with some humor — suggest a strategy for resistance to the taming of the city.