Whitewash as Affective Platform: Art and Politics of Surface in the Work of Yto Barrada and Hassan Darsi

Whitewash when read through affect is a site of fleeting documentation, a temporary archive of becoming, an ephemeral glimpse into what might become, different. By reading slowly and carefully the work of contemporary artists Yto Barrada and Hassan Darsi, this article hopes to show how their attention to whitewash in urban Morocco is about registering and producing a moment of as-yet-unrealized possibility and potential ontological transformation. From the creation of potemkin worlds for passing dignitaries to the presentation of a worker’s body slowly whitewashing a decaying building in a neoliberal authoritarian city, Barrada and Darsi document whitewash as the space where, and the moment when, intended and unintended affects gather in regime-produced conditions of being. Barrada and Darsi harness these affects to produce a platform for the imagination of another type of emergent futurity. Through a discussion of these two artists’ attention to whitewashed architectural surface in photography, film and architectural models, I hope to bring together surface reading and affect to show not only that through surface and affect, we can understand the working of regimes of power in a postcolonial state, but also, and perhaps most importantly, that under authoritarianism and censorship, attending to affect through surface may be one of the most poignant ways to create space and mount critique.

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