Fall 2012 | Gallery

Interview by Alya Sebti with Younes Baba-Ali, Everyday Activist


Defined as what is “happening or used daily,” the everyday shapes that comprise Younes Baba Ali’s work reflects their quotidian use and simultaneously diverts everyday objects from this normative use. In doing so he also stands up against an elitist art to create artworks that target the everyday man [1].

Baba-Ali democratizes access to art with his unwavering smirk; irony is his preferred weapon to reinvent the practice of everyday life in order “to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.”² Younes Baba Ali uses this language as a tactic to divert imposed space and to disrupt our relation to the everyday. Irony, used tactically here to address a wider audience, was born in 16th century literature in the northern countries, contending with modern democratic aspiration [3]. Through this everyday language, Baba-Ali manages to reintegrate art into the everyday use.

Younes Baba-Ali’s universe of creation is made out of everyday objects such as hairdryers which with a slight technical modification start swaying, a parabola abutting against two walls or horns randomly activated in a cacophonic orchestra. swaying hairdryer, uninterrupted horns orchestra or parabola abutting against two walls:

He tinkers, and in doing so, invents a new rhythm of gestures and sounds that inhabit the object. Newly freed from their commonplace use, they become a quasi-human subject, almost neurotic. These decontextualized objects become autonomous and subsequently unusable by the incredulous spectator who is then aware of the entities with which he coexists.

By creating a disturbance, the spectator becomes an active witness involved in the underlying discourse of Younes Baba Ali’s artwork, a denunciation of the fragility of our system.

When irony is able to generate a new equilibrium, it can “trigger a new positive relationship in the world,” [4]. This artist, an everyday activist, creates twice: first by diverting the object from its original function, he manages to interrupt the subject/spectator binary. Second, by desecrating the rarified category of “artwork,” which is now reduced to an autonomous object, he frees the spectator from his submissive relationship to the artwork.

To divert the everyday, his favourite procedure is the game that he often recalls as “attentat artistique.” He interferes with the flaws in our system to expose the fragilities of the world to the spectator who becomes a willing hostage and witness. As Michel de Certeau asserts, the game as a “disjunctive operation [producing events that differentiate]” is a popular tactic to overcome the imposed everyday codes [5].

One of the recurring themes in Younes Baba-Ali’s work is the relationship between artist, artwork, audience and institution, and last summer he created a laboratory of artistic and curatorial practices where he investigated the status of the curator. I interviewed him regarding this experimentation.


Interview: Younes Baba Ali and Curatorial Practices

Alya Sebti: Your recent exhibition PLPAC, Proposition for a Laboratory of Artistic and Curatorial Practices, co-organized with Simohamed Fettaka and held in the Gallery of the French Institute, Rabat, Morocco (28 June – 28 Oct. 2012) unveiled to a wider audience a new side of your work, gathering artists and curators and creating new dialogues around the theme of the public space. As part of this project, you co-curated with Simohamed Fettaka a selection of Moroccan video art for the international DVD Project of Stichting Idee-fixe.

Would you say that your curatorial practices are part of your artistic process?


Younes Baba-Ali: I wouldn’t consider myself a curator since I don’t approve how this status is considered nowadays. This notion was created in the 60’s and 70’s in order to structure and give more visibility to the work of an artist. Curate means to take care but now I feel it is not the case: there is a power game where some curators only foreclose, influence and condition the work of the artist. I sometimes witness an inverse relationship where the curator becomes the artist and the artist is the material.

I feel that a curator is the one who creates links between the artist’s work, the institutions and the audience mostly through a relevant selection of the artworks, the mediation and the writing. To that extent, I would consider myself more of an organizer than a curator for this PLPAC exhibition.


AS: How did the idea of creating a laboratory of artistic and curatorial practices come about?


YBA: In the past several years I have met inspiring artists from Morocco and abroad whose energy gave me the will to link them together and work with them on the notion of research. I wanted to create a frame of time and space where we could allow ourselves to focus on research and experimentation together.

Nowadays the idea of the artist group is fading away and most of the artists are working in solo practices. In Morocco the situation is becoming tricky for the artists who are not driven by a commercial production (mostly through painting and the gallery process): they are weaker and still have to struggle to be considered artists and make a living from their work. The idea behind PLPAC is not to create artwork but to generate awareness and support by gathering artists and curators motivated by this alternative artistic practice: to think of the work in an immaterial way, since the commercial function should not impact its creation. It is the galleries who should adapt to the work of the artist and not vice versa.


AS: How did you manage to organize it then?


YBA: The state of mind of this laboratory was to create a link between artists and curators I had met and wanted to work with, blend their practices, their education, their references. To see how the other works, and to think and brainstorm together about the notion of artistic practices in the public space.

Each one had a project related to the public space as research field and potential exhibition space. The follow up discussion was more important than the final result in order to distance ourselves from expectations rooted in the creation of an object, and instead to focus on the process.

My aim was to prove that we can self-organize a project with limited means and that there are alternatives to the wait-and-see attitude, and even to the limits of logistical and financial constraints. On the contrary, through organization, communication and writing we can give importance to a project. My purpose it to act as active and autonomous artists, to think in a collective way and share with other artists or curators driven by the same will. By drawing these connections, we grow faster and better, we manage to build a grid which makes us stronger.



Besides its reflection on the object nature and status, Younes Baba-Ali’s work questions the relationship between art, audience and the institution. Last summer, when he challenged the relationship between artist and institutions through the laboratory of artistic and curatorial practice, he gathered artists and curators around a platform where the focus was not based on a final result but instead on the process, and an attempt to create distance from the market. Since that experimentation, several artists and curators who participated to this event feel a greater freedom to experience and exhibit non object based art. One example is the project “des espaces autres” exhibiting photographies on walls and buses last September in Casablanca and Al Hoceima [6]. Moreover, some of the participants, now nicknamed by the press as “the Moroccan beat generation” [7], also feel greater support in their creative process, and an example is the “open studio – work in progress” project of the Moroccan artist Mohammed Arejdal exhibiting his experimentations since the 27 September at Le Cube Independant Art Room based in Rabat, Morocco [8].

Younes Baba-Ali shares this desire to democratize access to art. He uses the means in hand to make art accessible on two levels, first using irony, he involves the spectator as witness of these diverted objects to expose flaws of our everyday. Secondly, by desecrating the artwork, he manages to abolish the submissive relationship between the spectator and the artwork and reminds us that one does not exist without the other.

Baba-Ali subverts the system from its base and uses art as a serious game that diverts objects and codes, reclaims space to use them in their own way. As an everyday activist, he spreads a form of moral and political resistance through the mechanisms by which individuals become autonomous subjects. An everyday, which according to the words of Certau, “invents itself with a thousand ways to poach.”



[1] Oxford Dictionary

[2] Wittgenstein “On Metaphysical/Everyday use”

[3] Michel de Certeau, The practice of Everyday (p.13 and p.14) “A l’aube de la modernité, au XVIème siècle, l’homme ordinaire apparait avec les insignes d’un malheur général qu’il tourne en dérision. Tel que le figure une littérature ironique, d’ailleurs propre aux Pays du Nord et d’inspiration déjà démocratique.” An english translation would be : “At the dawn of modernity, in the sixteenth century, the ordinary man appears with the insignia of a general unhappiness he mocks. He is depicted as such in an ironic literature, indeed unique to the Northern Country with already democratic inspiration”.

[4] Nietzsche

[5] Michel de Certeau “The practice of Everyday”

[6] “des espaces autres” : Following a residency exchange of Dutch and Moroccan photographers, the exhibition was held last September in Morocco on buses and walls and disseminated through as a video installation via the internet. This project, conceived as a way to reach the largest number of individuals, uses and diverts a large scale media campaign in the cities of Casablanca and Al Hoceima to provide access to art directly to the general public. The artists who participated to this project are : Leila Alaoui, Zineb Andress Arraki, Charlotte Dumas, Natascha Libbert, Khalil Nemmaoui and Henk Wildschut. The co-curators: Hicham Khalidi and I participated in Younes Baba Ali’s PLPAC. http://www.desespacesautres.com/

[7] article Tel Quel “Moroccan beat generation” issued 25 September 2012. http://www.telquel-online.com/Culture/Mag-culture/Moroccan-Beat-Generation/537

[8] Exhibition Mohamed Arejdal, Le Cube Independant Art Room “Open Studio – Work in progress” from September 27th until October 23rd. http://www.lecube-art.com/en/expositions/actuellement/


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