The Curve is acquiring a reputation for interesting shows and this is definitely going to be enhanced by the present exhibition. Entering the long curving space, the initial impression is one of elegant restraint: simple architectural line drawings on the wall and idiosyncratic wicker chairs in the middle of the space. In fact the exhibition is about a catastrophe – the earthquake that destroyed the city of Agadir in Morocco in 1960 – and its repercussions for the people who lived there. And the longer you look (and listen), the more upsetting it becomes.
The work was developed from Agadir written by Mohammed Khair-Eddine, who has been described as the Moroccan Rimbaud. Voices summoned from his text, including a billy goat and a female Berber warrior, come out of the pretty wicker chairs, which are placed at intervals at the side of the gallery. Despite the hallucinatory imaginings, one becomes increasingly aware of the underlying strata of pain and loss.
On the other side of the gallery, line drawings denote the buildings of Agadir, both before and after the earthquake. The Caserne des Pompiers or Fire Station built by Zevaco, is an outstanding example of the ‘architecture de la rupture’. We are reminded that the Barbican was also created as a response to urban damage. Even the fragments of gouache wallpaper designs in some beautiful little collages can perhaps be seen as stand ins for the smashed buildings. And the human relationships are evoked by the configurations of the wickerwork chairs down the middle of the space.
At the end of the gallery is a film of archival footage of the survivors speaking about their experience of the disaster. Despite the fact though that much of the language is about specific experience, we are also made aware of the political ramifications of the situation, in part due to the tension that existed between the nationalist parties and the French authorities in Morocco at the time. Our situation in London now is vexed in different ways but Agadir encourages us to reflect on our lot with gratitude.
Yto Barrada ‘Agadir’ is at the Curve Gallery at the Barbican until 5 May.