Tree Identification for Beginners, 2017

Basel 2018
Pace Gallery
Video/Film
Film installation with curtain, 16 mm, transferred to digital; textile curtain: cotton, silk, linen, and natural dyes
In the turbulent summer of 1966, Yto Barrada’s mother, a 23-year-old Moroccan student, was one of 50 ‘Young African Leaders’ invited on a State Department–sponsored tour of the USA. Through play, poetry, and humor, the film Tree Identification for Beginners examines this stage-managed encounter between North America and Africa, and the nascent spirit of disobedience – the Pan-African, Tricontinental, Black Power, and anti-Vietnam war movements – that would come to define a generation. The film brings together 16mm stop-motion animation of Montessori educational toys with voiceovers from Barrada’s mother and other Crossroads Africa participants, as well as historic figures such as Civil Rights activist Stokely Carmichael. The audio effects were created by Barrada and professional Foley artists using noise-making tools in a sound studio. Tree Identification for Beginners also embodies Barrada’s research into form, abstraction, and spatial organization; the installation includes curtains hand-stitched with Montessori grammatical symbols and dyed with pre-industrial colors. The film was a Performa 17 commission for ‘Afroglossia,’ curated by Adrienne Edwards.