Yto Barrada

Lyautey Unit Blocks

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Yto Barrada, Lyautey Unit Blocks, 2010, Wood and paint, Dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut / Hamburg. Art Jameel Collection

Artwork Details


Yto Barrada


Lyautey Unit Blocks




Wood and paint


Dimensions variable

Credit Line

Art Jameel Collection

Work Description

This work presents a series of painted wooden blocks in the shape of arches, triangles, rectangles and squares, and precariously assembled to spell “LYAUTEY”; the last name of the first Resident-General of French-occupied Morocco from 1912 to 1925, Marshal Hubert Lyautey.

A contested figure, Lyautey oversaw large-scale urban development programmes, as well as wide­ranging surveys of Morocco’s artistic practices and archaeological sites. Working with French architect and urbanist Henri Prost (1874-1959), he directed the design and construction of colonial Rabat, Fez and Casablanca. Lyautey believed urbanism played a central role in changing people’s lives, where people of different social and cultural circumstances could coexist in urban spaces that referenced the local culture and aesthetics, while new, modern cities were developed for the European populations. However, behind these intensions lay the economic goal of building cities that foregrounded tourism and segregated Europeans and the local community. The birth of this new architecture in Morocco was also intended to serve as an experimental model for modern twentieth century city-building in France and French colonies.

Barrada’s work engages with the unevenness of mobility and the ‘asymmetries of boundaries’ between Europe and Morocco. Her practice often negotiates a conceptual path between politics and poetry in order to describe the inequity of prevailing global structures. The oversized children’s blocks evoke the city skyline and refer to the project of modernisation in architecture and urban planning. Modernism, as an integral part of colonialism, is not always visible; under the guise of children’s toys, a sense of tension, destruction and disorder surfaces.

Artist Biography

Yto Barrada (b.1971, lives and works in New York, USA) works over a wide range of media including photography, sculpture, installations, textile and video. Her extensive series and project-based practice is rooted in the culture, landscape, economy and politics of her hometown of Tangiers, Morocco. She is the founder of Cinémathèque de Tanger, a cultural center that has become a landmark institution bringing the Moroccan community together to celebrate local and international cinema. 

Barrada studied history and political science at the Sorbonne University, Paris, and photography at the International Center of Photography, New York. She held solo exhibitions at Mathaf, Doha (2020); the Barbican Center, London (2018); The Power Plant, Toronto (2016); the Secession, Vienna (2016); M Museum, Leuven (2016); the Serralves Museum, Porto (2015); and Carré d’Art, Nimes (2015). Her work has been included in recent exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum, New York; Tate Modern, London; MoMA, New York; Guggenheim, Berlin, Renaissance Society, Chicago; Wiels Art Center, Brussels ; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museo de Sao Paolo; and the 2007 & 2011 Venice Biennales. Barrada’s work has won numerous awards including the Roy R. Neuberger Prize (2019), Tiger Award for short film (2016) and a nomination for the Prix Marcel Duchamp, Paris (2016), the Abraaj Group Art Prize (2015) and the Deutsche Guggenheim Artist of the Year award (2011).

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