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Art Moves Africa – Retracing Roots and Tracing New Routes: Mobility and Touring in North Africa

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

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91<br />

Country-Specific Information<br />

—<br />

GENERAL INFORMATION<br />

—<br />

The area known by the term “Western Sahara”<br />

is a disputed territory on the northwest coast of<br />

<strong>Africa</strong>. It is divided <strong>in</strong>to two regions: the majority<br />

(roughly 80%) of the territory is under Moroccan<br />

control, whereas a small portion is adm<strong>in</strong>istered<br />

as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR),<br />

with a government <strong>in</strong> exile <strong>in</strong> T<strong>in</strong>douf, Algeria.<br />

Morocco has built a 2,700 km wall to del<strong>in</strong>eate<br />

the two zones, which it cont<strong>in</strong>ues to guard <strong>and</strong><br />

monitor with military bases, artillery posts <strong>and</strong><br />

radars scann<strong>in</strong>g the SADR side. The wall is l<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

with l<strong>and</strong>m<strong>in</strong>es. Western Sahara is on the United<br />

Nations’ list of “non-self-govern<strong>in</strong>g territories;”<br />

it is the most populous territory on the list. The<br />

SADR has been a member of the <strong>Africa</strong>n Union<br />

s<strong>in</strong>ce 1984, a fact that pushed Morocco to withdraw<br />

its membership (before rejo<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> 2017).<br />

Western Sahara was orig<strong>in</strong>ally <strong>in</strong>habited<br />

by Amazigh tribes, which were later jo<strong>in</strong>ed by<br />

Serer from the south. After the arrival of Islam,<br />

the l<strong>and</strong> became the site of important caravan<br />

routes, especially between Marrakech <strong>and</strong><br />

Timbuktu. Spa<strong>in</strong> seized control of the area <strong>in</strong><br />

1884, establish<strong>in</strong>g it as a Spanish colony. At<br />

the outbreak of the Second World War <strong>in</strong> 1939,<br />

adm<strong>in</strong>istration was shifted <strong>in</strong>to the h<strong>and</strong>s of<br />

Spanish Morocco.<br />

S<strong>in</strong>ce Spa<strong>in</strong> withdrew its troops <strong>in</strong> 1975,<br />

the area has been at the centre of disputes<br />

between Morocco <strong>and</strong> the Sahrawi Polisario<br />

Front. Morocco annexed roughly two-thirds of<br />

the territory <strong>in</strong> 1976 <strong>and</strong> the rest <strong>in</strong> 1979, follow<strong>in</strong>g<br />

Mauritania’s withdrawal. The Western<br />

Sahara War, oppos<strong>in</strong>g Morocco <strong>and</strong> the Sahrawi<br />

Polisario Front, lasted until a UN-brokered<br />

cease-fire <strong>in</strong> 1991. A proposed referendum over<br />

sovereignty was planned but has never taken<br />

place. Algeria has backed the Polisario front<br />

s<strong>in</strong>ce the beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g, an issue that is at the heart<br />

of present-day diplomatic tensions between<br />

Morocco <strong>and</strong> Algeria. The conflict has resulted<br />

<strong>in</strong> severe human rights abuses, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g the<br />

displacement of tens of thous<strong>and</strong>s of Sahrawi<br />

—<br />

QUOTE:<br />

« There are a bunch<br />

of local cultural festivals<br />

that happen with<strong>in</strong> the<br />

camps <strong>and</strong> that move<br />

from camp to camp.<br />

Everyth<strong>in</strong>g happens on<br />

Algerian soil, aside<br />

from <strong>Art</strong>ifariti which<br />

happens <strong>in</strong> 2 places <strong>–</strong> <strong>in</strong><br />

the camps <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong><br />

Tifariti. International<br />

artists come <strong>and</strong> spend<br />

2 weeks <strong>in</strong> Tifariti. »<br />

Mohamed Sulaiman<br />

Photographer <strong>and</strong> visual<br />

artist, Motif arts studio,<br />

Samara refugee camp,<br />

T<strong>in</strong>douf<br />

—<br />

civilians <strong>and</strong> the death of thous<strong>and</strong>s of civilians<br />

dur<strong>in</strong>g the war years. Morocco has been criticized<br />

by Amnesty International, Human Rights<br />

Watch <strong>and</strong> a vast number of other <strong>in</strong>ternational<br />

organizations for ongo<strong>in</strong>g human rights abuses<br />

<strong>and</strong> violent crackdowns on pro-<strong>in</strong>dependence<br />

demonstrations. Freedom House rates Western<br />

Sahara as “not free”, with a score of 4 / 100 <strong>in</strong><br />

2018.<br />

—<br />

ARTS AND CULTURE<br />

—<br />

<strong>Art</strong>s <strong>and</strong> culture <strong>in</strong> Western Sahara centre on<br />

two major annual events, namely the FiSahara<br />

International Film Festival <strong>and</strong> ARTifariti Festival<br />

of <strong>Art</strong>s <strong>and</strong> Human Rights. FiSahara takes place<br />

<strong>in</strong> the refugee camps around T<strong>in</strong>douf, Algeria,<br />

while ARTifariti is spread between the camps<br />

<strong>and</strong> Tifariti, which sits <strong>in</strong> the Liberated Zone.<br />

Both events centre on art as a medium for expression<br />

of the struggle for human rights. Both<br />

events draw <strong>in</strong>ternational visitors, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g<br />

visitors from across <strong>Africa</strong>.<br />

Cultural expression also thrives year-round<br />

thanks to small artists’-run studios <strong>in</strong> T<strong>in</strong>douf<br />

<strong>and</strong> across the border. There are also<br />

tra<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g opportunities, for example through<br />

the Abid<strong>in</strong> Kaid Saleh Audiovisual School.<br />

Meanwhile, Morocco has been <strong>in</strong>vest<strong>in</strong>g<br />

culturally <strong>in</strong> the territory it occupies, promot<strong>in</strong>g<br />

for example the city of Dakhla as a<br />

touristic <strong>and</strong> cultural dest<strong>in</strong>ation with events<br />

such as the <strong>Africa</strong>n Fashion Festival.

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