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On the road with Malika Sqalli


Malika Sqalli's photographs possess boundless delicacy and bear witness to a universal outlook steeped in a very personal, poetic disposition. "I walk the line" is a joy to behold for all those who have a passion for the exotic.


Espace CDG in Rabat is hosting photographer Malika Sqalli's exhibition 'I Walk the Line", a follow-up of her 2011 show "Latitude 34" at Cube Independant Room.


"I Walk the Line", on show at Espace CDG in Rabat, is a visual road trip limned by means of photographic film where aesthetics meet quaintness. As her pictorial theme, the London-based artist followed latitude 34•2 on a photographic journey from the United States via Morocco, Australia, China, Japan, Uruguay, Argentina and Chili.

"I was about to turn 34 in Los Angeles. It occurred to me that I was on latitude 34•2 and I decided to combine geography and inner life by turning figures into a pictorial concept. The light in L.A. reminded me of Morocco, and that's when I realised that it was on the same latitude as Rabat.".  That project was meant to result in a single show entitled "Latitude 34" at the Cube in Rabat but ended up with a second chapter called "I Walk the Line".  "The starting point was a dream, an escape, a whim, particularly since I didn't take myself seriously at first.". Her modes of transport  were practically improvised: by car, a module which makes for a rather solitary pilgrimage, coach, bicycle and train. As any self-respecting photographer, she was on the lookout for surprises. "I was tuned into ideas on the wavelength of beauty. I didn't map out that trip, I merely acted on it. I was on the road within a week and many details came into focus later", says she.  Her discoveries are gathered in a lyrical anthology, bare and silent, revealing a sliver of her soul, for she persists in capturing vast expanses of water and sky, the raw, the vacuum, quiescence and stillness. "Everywhere I went, even Japan and China, I subconsciously sought out the desert, and that is what I ended up capturing.". Her pictures of misty landscapes shrouding peaks, flanks, mountainous curves are reminiscent of Chinese landscapes and their luxuriating wilderness. They also recall the most unlikely settings of Lord of The Rings.


Everything begins with light.


Beyond isolation and austerity, Malika Sqalli reveals a mind-boggling set of nuances which stretches aesthetic boundaries. Everything begins and ends with chromatic variations and modulations painted with an invisible brush which the artist wields like a magic wand. Under her lens, grey runs the whole gamut  of hues from silver to gold and skies come in electrifying and deliciouly changeable shades. Bright orange worms itself into the darkest shades as in an acid trip. Her work is a true hymn to nature and talent. "You can find quaintness and beauty everywhere if you take the time to seek out the hidden beauty in places" says she. Moreover, in pairing quasi-similar scenes captured in different cities, she succeeds, by blotting out each of their specificity, in revealing their kinship in her diptychs. "I did not seek out the uniqueness of the places I visited, I did the opposite because what interests me is what links them, that sense of deja-vu. One can feel connected anywhere in the world, be it the farthest corner on earth. People got a kick out of being told they were on the same latitude as Morocco. A sense of connection is a fundamental human need.


A body, an outlook.


For her photographs, the artist draws upon the romantic paintings of the late XVIIIth century artist Caspar David Friedrich's by grafting her impulses to  closely-observed  nature.The way she photographs majestic skies,  oneiric, vast stretches of land, even cables

as treasured graphic lines, are doubtlessly linked to her profession as a fitness coach. Her sensory world is apprehended through body control. "I have an intensely physical attitude to my environment, that is the way I approach it. I live fifteen kilometers outside London and I cycle everywhere. Cities make one very self-centered, one loses sight of how vast the earth is. I'm not too fond of cities, they blind us. Inside cities, we are social beings who focus on themselves." Did her rejection of the urban environment direct her toward a flock of birds or an isolated bridge rather than a wailing child, a lonely soul, a desperate tramp or even a group of visitors?

"There are people in my photographs but they often go unnoticed. The earth is vast and man is small" she explains, adding: "I am not on holiday, I have a project but very little time since it is self-financed. In Latin America, I went from Uruguay to Chili in a fortnight, I didn't have time to look at people.". Whatever her mindset, she has certainly managed to seduce all little sedentary souls.


Paola Frangieh, journalist

Le soir des Echos.



On the Same Line – Essay by Katie Stretton
A look at ‘Latitude 34’ by Malika Sqalli

We could say that as human beings we have an almost instinctual habit to attempt to locate ourselves in our surroundings and thus understand our world and our experience a little more through this.
For Malika Sqalli this body of work was arguably conceived in 2010 when, in Los Angeles the light surrounding her seemed curiously familiar and she soon realised that she was at 34°02 latitude. For most of us this piece of information would warrant little more than an acknowledging facial expression before continuing with our travels, however for Sqalli, this realisation has shaped the next few years of her life; latitude 34°02 is the exact same latitude as Rabat, Morocco – the city of her birth. (It was also Sqalli’s 34th year).
Within a week Sqalli was on the road, making what could be described in some ways as a pilgrimage along latitude 34°02, and what was meant to be a small single show turned evolved into an ongoing piece of work with a second chapter aptly titled, ‘I Walk the Line’.
In the opening words of ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’, David Abram says ‘humans are tuned for relationship.’ It is often said that ‘no man is an island’ and yet with the population at the highest it has ever been we find that mental health problems as well as problems of loneliness and disconnection are quite possibly at their highest also.
It is most likely impossible to find anyone who has not at some point wondered what someone on the other side of the world, or the other side of the ocean is doing at any given moment. Whilst we find ourselves divided by these almost incomprehensibly huge areas of water or land there are these pockets of curiosities that are invariably shared. Sqalli not only found this when meeting people whilst travelling but also that her interest in this latitude was a shared one – shared with someone in North Carolina who got in touch with her through this shared curiosity. Jeremy, at 34.02, was exactly across from Rabat.
The spaces that Sqalli explores arguably speak equally of connection and disconnection. The vast swathes of desert, ocean and snow leave the viewer wondering what places and populations they are both separating and linking; an effect heightened by the harsh horizon lines which often cut through the middle of the image like the crosshairs in a pair of binoculars. Sqalli presents us with a unity across her images showing connections in trans-continental triptychs with landscapes often seemingly so interchangeable that many people might pass over them when trying to record landmarks or details of different places for posterity.
The light quality of a place in photographs is often something we take for granted, connecting it with countries or continental areas of the globe. The images featured in ‘Latitude 34°’ use this, perhaps almost naivety, to in a way surprise the viewer by furthering the likenesses along the line; one could almost believe that the images were all made within a much smaller area of the world.
The exploratory nature of Sqalli’s work reminds us of the work of Francis Alÿs, for whom the process of travelling is the work, but with ‘Latitude 34°’ this is only the beginning. The latitude line in question acts as a metaphorical geographical marker in a reference ellipsoid – used because of their relative simplicity in comparison with the uneven and ever changing surface of the earth – as well as engaging the viewer to consider this notion of a metaphorical line.

Our world is governed by lines – physical and metaphorical.  Crossings, roads, queues, paths, corridors and countless others act as components making up part of our daily physical and social interactions. Rob Forbes discussed in 2006 how the lines and shapes presented to and acted by us in our environment  can shape the way we engage with the world and others in it at various different levels – such as personal, local and global. Let us not forget that a key factor in how we experience and formalise time relies on the existence of the partnering longitudinal lines, intersecting the latitudinal. If we begin to consider lines in this way it often runs the risk of becoming a negative comment.

Lines often carry connotations of an order and conformity associated with negativity, but for Sqalli the line, this line in paticular has offered much more. In ‘Latitude 34°’ the line offers a contemplation about similarity, difference and the experiences of these. There is also a powerful sense in which this line and the ‘pilgrimage’ and work which stemmed along this line also offers a sense of adventure and freedom, not just for the viewer but also a personal one for Malika.

All text copyright © Katie Stretton 2013. All rights reserved.



The return of a genius photographer


After the United States, China and Japan, Austro-Moroccan photographer Malika Sqalli is back in Morocco for a second instalment of her successful show in Rabat entitled Latitude 34 - From Los Angeles to Rabat, a visual diary originating in L.A. and ending in Rabat.


Works on display can reveal much about an artist. That is certainly the case here.


At a time when technology has reduced most things to the commonplace, that photographer restores her artform to its former status. Each shot has a reason to be, each composition reflects   Weltanschauung and each move creates an event and tells a story. Without doubt, any photographer worth his salt knows not only how to select a subject but also how to reveal things of beauty to the observing viewer's eye.

As such, Malika Sqalli's photographs are true wonders. They transport the beholder into a fairy-tale, fantasy, fantasmagoric universe. Like all great artists, Sqalli imbues the frozen image with seductiveness, sensuality and plenitude. Her stills display outstanding light choices, contrasting colours which vary with the mood and impart a filmic quality: desert landscapes, overcast skies, urban surroundings ... Sounds, colours and scents achieve Baudelairean synaesthesia.


Above all, Sqalli's body of work is full of a lyricism which makes each click of the shutter a poetic gesture and a poet out of the photographer: poet the moment, of ephemera and of harmonious chaos. Her work displays a symbiotic quality fusing poetry and photography. Poetics embrace the photographic vernacular and set it ablaze. As a result, her work is free of the kind of raw, journalistic, matter-of-fact reporting which assails one on a daily basis.


Sqalli takes lines, numbers, elusive characters and casual encounters as raw material from which to draw concepts, meanings and occasionally symbols, blurring boundaries between signifier and signified, challenging us to revisit our relationship to objects and trivia which she resurrects via the magic of the image.


From the virtual to the real, the animate to the inanimate, concrete to abstraction, the photographic work of this Rabat-born artist is protean, aesthetic and multiform. She is also multicultural in her references drawn from different sources and in her use of various photographic techniques.


Finally, Sqalli the cosmopolitan artist proves that in photography as much as the movies, technique and technical ability are no more than tools; the lens serves the creative outlook. It is its master's eye.


Mustapha Taleb




Malika, the bird with a camera.

Compared to other recent photographic bodies of work, Malika Sqalli"s photos entitled "Latitude 34.02" are remarkable, as much from an artistic, aesthetic or cultural viewpoint as for the unique perspective such an experiment represents. Her interest lies in travel, cultural diversity and the impact of the technological revolution on aspects of our personal and social environment. Her curiosity bears witness to the scope of her global vision, the intelligence of her sensitivity and the breadth of her outlook. It compels us to pay close attention to her works, to give them the analytical time they deserve, the better to take in the whole panorama of the worlds she invites us to explore. While roaming the labyrinths of Malika's exhition, the viewer becomes aware of the ease with which her camera gathered images in the course of numerous journeys through places and towns lying on the path of the exhibition's theme: latitude 34.02. Those works break with the usual subjects and forms making up a familiar, reassuring and facile visual dialogue. Malika's preferred choices provoke curiosity and astonishment when we first encounter them: what does it mean, we ask ourselves, followed by these questions: - Are those choices down to her shy and reserved nature? - Is she pleading the cause of her way of seeing things and events? - Does she mean to refer to the solitude of the artist confronted with society? Such questions arise from the images in her work which depict skies and clouds where she has handled details of light with a degree of  rofessionalism; her shots seem to stem from a field of diverse and infinite viewpoints, proving that she cannot be confined to a single vantage point since they all represent one and the same aspect of a single universe where she is at peace and from which she draws her inspiration. She has chosen to inhabit a vacuum of which we get a glimpse in her photographs and which compels its viewers to scan her works for the premises of her approach. For the choices she has made in her photographs, the intensity of their colours and their visual harmony, are not the result of an easy mimetism aimed at appealing to the viewer's preference for familiar hustle, bustle and subject matter. They should rather be perceived as a shout of protest rooted in her intellect where she takes on the role of mediator-photographer negotiating on our behalf a larger role for her artistic sensitivity with the aim of shielding us from the constraints of contemporary life and the aches and pains it causes. All that speaks for the unquestionable presence of her work and the power of the panoramic compositions which form the basis of her opus. Jaafar AKIL Photographer - Research Master in Journalistic Photography Rabat, 15\02\2013 Translated from the arabic into french by Mohammed DOUKKALI


Review: Malika Sqalli treks “Latitude 34″ for auspicious Atlanta debut at Whitespace
October 30, 2012


Malika Sqalli's "Birds at Dawn, Sunrise, Rabat, Morocco"
Sometimes dreams come true — or are made to come true. Young and tenacious enough to carry out the enterprise, Moroccan artist Malika Sqalli has set out to document every significant aspect of the lands that lie along the 34th parallel of latitude, on which her home city of Rabat is situated. “Latitude 34,” as her project is titled in the show at Whitespec, incorporates not only the 34th parallel north but the corresponding 34th parallel south.
“Document” is actually too dispassionate a verb; Sqalli embraces the features of the locales that interest her. For the city of Atlanta, that includes Coca-Cola and the architecture of Inman Park. (It was her visit to the intown neighborhood that led to her chance discovery of Whitespace gallery and its Whitespec project room, where her photographs are on view through November 24.)
The exhibition’s two color photocollages titled “Atlanta’s Bubbles” take the shape of a geometric pattern familiar from Moroccan tiles: the central image of an Inman Park mansion is flanked by the Coca-Cola logo, repeated in alphabets ranging from Arabic to Chinese and Korean — a reach even more global than Sqalli’s project.
Except for an inkjet print of the drawing “Imaginary Lines,” symbolizing the lines of latitude that pass through Carolina Beach, North Carolina, and Rabat, Morocco, the remainder of the exhibition consists of landscape photographs — or occasional skyscapes, and one image of the romantic but almost claustrophobically urban old quarter of Fes, another Moroccan city along the 34th parallel.

Sqalli's "Huntington Beach, CA, USA"
“Romantic” is a relevant adjective here; even when a photograph is ironic in its details, the portrayal of the scene is passionate and exhilaratingly innocent. There isn’t an ounce of cynicism in the picture of “Mount Huashan,” even though we’re told that the clouds of mist that surround the long line of visitors that snakes around the mountain trail contain more air pollution than water vapor. The closest the show gets to standard-issue irony is the belching smokestacks adjacent to “Huntington Beach,” a stretch of sand that seems far more cramped than we expect California beaches to be.
Likewise, the forest of wires and antennas that sprouts among the occasional treetop in “L’Oiseaux a l’Aube” (a study of birds taking wing at dawn in Rabat) is a sight that enchants Sqalli for its geometric complexity. The cluttered but well-composed sunrise is as pristine here as in the companion photo “The night’s collar opens on the chest of dawn [Arabic poem].” The title says it all.
Although Sqalli’s romanticism occasionally verges on the excessive — the lonely stroller on a South Carolina beach echoed by a lone seagull, or the ocean seen at sunset in Japan — more often the scene she captures has a visual freshness. One example is the gravel track bisecting green fields in “Rawara Beach Road,” a landscape in Northlands, New Zealand, where the chief feature apart from the road, fields and sky is a flock of sheep.
Four triptychs of “Dunes” reveal Sqalli’s fascination with vast drifts of sand, which she finds in places we might not expect: New Zealand and Japan as well as desert regions of Australia, the United States and Morocco.
Her quest will eventually take her to more troubled locations than, say, Malibu (where she took a photograph art-historically titled “Turner in Santa Monica”): the 34th parallel passes through difficult parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example. She is exploring options to make it feasible.

"The Yellow Trip -- A Self-Portrait, Joshua Tree, Mojave Desert, CA, USA "
On the whole, thus far, the photographer’s travels have had more of the magical aspect suggested by “The Yellow Trip — A Self-Portrait,” in which the double yellow lines of the highway stretching through the Mojave Desert at Joshua Tree are intersected by Sqalli’s yellow shoes, which cast dramatic shadows in the foreground. They are by no means ruby slippers, and the road is scarcely yellow brick, but Sqalli’s search has something of the appealing surreality of Dorothy’s quest for Oz.
This trip, however, confirms Salman Rushdie’s observation about Hollywood’s deformation of L. Frank Baum’s story: in reality, if there is no place like home, it is because the whole world offers far more than home. Home (which in Sqalli’s case is currently London) is where one starts from, as T. S. Eliot wrote in “Four Quartets.” And Sqalli has started most marvelously.