Bouchra Khalili approaches history as a constellation of forces haunting the present. Through a practice that includes film, installation, photography, and printmaking, the artist reimagines the revolutionary arc of the last century. Born in Casablanca during the Moroccan Years of Lead—a period of repression and unrest which began in the 1960s and continued through the ‘80s—Khalili takes the force and failure of the nation-state as a primary thematic concern. Beginning each project with a period of rigorous research, Khalili draws from historical material and reanimates first-person accounts to challenge restrictive conceptions of citizenship. She weaves together imagery and sound in an associative relationship to invoke the revolutionary impulse.
Khalili’s The Mapping Journey Project (2008–11) is an eight-channel video installation that details the stories of eight people who traveled illegally into the Mediterranean basin from North Africa or the Middle East. Each channel features one subject as they describe their border crossing while sketching their route on a paper map of the world; only their hands are seen in the frame. The Mapping Journey Project reveals the tension between policed national borders and migration, showing the cartographic forms traversed by will and necessity.
The video The Tempest Society (2017) explores the legacy of al-Assifa (Arabic for “the Tempest”), an agitprop theater group and social project active in 1970s Paris. Formed by a Moroccan migrant worker and two French student activists, al-Assifa’s history runs parallel to broader junctions of revolt and radicalism. The group occupied factories, cinemas, and city squares, engaging the public through oral storytelling. Although al-Assifa’s supporters included activist communities, artists, and intellectuals, including Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, little documentation of the collective remains. The Tempest Society thus acts as a gesture of posterity and a celebration of possibility. For the 60-minute video commissioned by documenta 14 and exhibited in Athens in 2017, Khalili invited three young Athenians from diverse backgrounds to tell the story of al-Assifa. Punctuating and expanding upon the themes of the work are photographs of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Antonio Gramsci. Through this unique retelling of history, Khalili positions the viewer in a deliberately discontinuous temporality. The artist locates crucial links between seemingly disparate struggles and shows historical events as continuous rather than foreclosed.
While in residence at Callie’s, Khalili rehearsed, constructed, and filmed The Magic Lantern (2022), a mixed-media installation that takes as its starting point the work of Swiss video pioneer Carole Roussopoulos (1945-2009), whose video camera and work already appeared in Khalili’s previous video installations Foreign Office (2015) and Twenty-Two Hours (2018). The work reactivates the art of the “phantasmagoria,” a technique from the late 18th century that combined projected imagery with vivid storytelling in order to conjure ghosts. Notably, activists used the technology to keep the spirit of French revolutionaries alive in the public imagination. Engaging this strategy to evoke a lost 1970 film by Roussopoulos about the struggle of Palestinian refugees, Khalili considers The Magic Lantern to be a continuation of her investigation into the genealogy and ethics of solidarity. The work premiered at Forum Freies Theater, Düsseldorf, in May of 2022, and will have its Berlin premiere at Callie’s in November 2022.