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 but also to encourage creative responses to the different local environmental, social and political challenges facing the artist and his community in the Hamada Desert.
The studio space includes a 6 × 6 meters of the physical studio, a large junkyard (Our gold mine of free material supplies!) as well as 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, we made our own tools to build the studio!). The Studio architectural design took 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.
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 these issues can be found in our chapter A Temple of Art in the Middle of the Desert in Arts and Culture in Global Development Practice.

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.