WHO WE ARE
Motif Art Studio is a small space for contemporary art practices, interactions and experimentation. It’s located in Samara refugee camp, southwest Algeria. The studio was established in 2016 over one full year of making (and breaking!). It was designed and built by Sahrawi artist Mohamed Sleiman Labat who constructed it entirely from discarded materials. The process of creating Motif Art Studio was a work of art by the artist. It’s also an experience meant to equip the artist with the skills, the knowledge and the energy to explore the potential of using art to create change, to experiment, to learn, to question and to open up potential responses to the different local environmental, social and political challenges facing the artist and his community in the Hamada Desert.
The studio area includes a 6 × 6 meters of the physical studio, a large junkyard (my gold mine of free material supplies!) and a newly established family garden to experiment with growing food as part of the studio practice. Following devastating floods that hit the camps in 2015, and for lack funding, Mohamed decided to utilize all the discarded materials of car parts, broken furnisher and the fabric of the old tents damaged in the flood to build the studio. Some discarded materials went into the studio frame, others into insulation, while some materials have actually went into making the tools with which the studio itself was built (Yes, I made my own tools to build the studio!). The Studio design took its inspiration from some design features of the current Sahrawi tent, which has four doors facing the different directions. This is a very practical feature in the desert. When the sandstorms blow from any direction, we can close the door facing that direction and open the opposite (I love the adaptability of the Sahrawi tent!).
Throughout the studio construction, Mohamed have been working on addressing a number of interconnected issues related to the role of art in the Sahrawi community, and how it can contribute to our situation solving some of the everyday issues in our lives. Art in the Sahrawi community is still largely related to traditional aesthetics. Motif Art Studio is an experimental lab that aims to encourage contemporary art practices, research and knowledge production but with a philosophy of appreciation to the Sahrawi traditions and the desert oral knowledge. We believe that art is not for entertainment; art has a mission to get us to experience things in a way that helps us ask questions, solve problems, create abundance, team up with each other, learn from one another, and enjoy what we have been offered in this short journey we call life. More discussion on this can be found in our chapter A Temple of Art in the Middle of the Desert in Arts and Culture in Global Development Practice.
Learning through action and interaction are key issues Sleiman Labat tried to address through his art practice. Learning should not be limited to the designated spaces such as schools; it could be experienced outside the walls of the classroom. Art has the potential to provide experimental creative activities to activate and feed the creative process of learning, creating and engaging with the different political, social and ecological issues we are facing. This is something Sleiman Labat was experiencing through the studio construction.
“When I started building Motif Art Studio, I didn’t have some of the practical skills required for some of the construction parts, but I allowed myself to get closer to the materials I was working with. Eventually I started to slowly familiarize myself with their nature and how to approach them” Mohamed Sleiman Labat.
Another key issue I got to develop during the studio construction was problem solving. As there was a lot of experimentation, there were many challenges too. I took the time to develop the solutions and interventions to those problems and situations, and that became a very important part of the process. The solutions had to be devised from whatever I could find.
The studio inauguration was in April 2017 after one full year of construction. Upon completion, the studio started to host different art projects, interactive sessions, workshops and collaborations. The studio provides access to different art materials and tools for guest artists to create their projects. The studio provides educational sessions in different art genres such as photography, sculpture, films and installations. It has also become a space for meetings and discussions as well as art talks and contemplation.
Motif philosophy is about exploring the underlying patterns and motifs that govern, structure and connect the different parts of systems. Allowing that friction between different disciplines, creative practices and materials has the potential to reveal new understandings and connections. Such cross disciplinary approaches recognize that acknowledge production and creativity meet at the intersection of many disciplines, and that they can flourish in the environment of plurality of inputs, contributions and diversity, we can’t be smarter than the interconnectedness of the web of life, but we can be her students and humbly mimic it. We hope that the friction in conversation and practice between artists and scientists can foster great outcomes. The studio now is moving with its art practice more towards living arts and living entities, we want to be part of the growing movement of celebrating life processes. Co-working, co-creating and coemerging with the living world. We are now focusing more on the growing phenomenon of family gardens and the knowledge of how to grow food in the specific context of the Hamada Desert. We interact with -and follow, the Saharawi families as they experience it and develop it, and we take part in it ourselves. We have established a small garden to grow food for the family and guests.
The garden has become a very important part of the studio practice. Encounters with the different plants we grow; their smells, tastes and energies are becoming important daily practices. On a practical level, that also means an amazing fresh salad or a great herbal tea from our home grown basil and mint. After so many challenges to grow vegetables in our garden, it’s now thriving with a diverse range of vegetables, fruits and herbs for the family and the studio guests to enjoy. Incorporating a garden in the studio practice highlights how art can help us shift from dependence on global food aid towards local and regional based interventions, economies and food sovereignty.
Our gardens’ vegetables and herbs ©Mohamed Sleiman Labat
Navigate through the different sections of the website to learn more about the past and current projects in Motif Art Studio.