The filmic art of Bouchra Khalili, born in Casablanca in 1975, grasps the fundamental tools of cinema to prise open the frames of history and thereby offer an encounter with suspended truths of the globalized civic condition. Over the past decade, her work has pursued a connected pair of figures through the ruin and twilight of nation-states. These are: 1) the migrant whose stories, voices, and eloquent gestures animate Khalili’s montage; and 2) the militant Third World intellectual, whose wisdom and defiance sharpen the contours of her films as mappings of unseen insurgency.
These scenes are focused upon a single figure in the early works of this lineage. For example, the renowned The Mapping Journey Project (2008–11) presents eight video channels in which migrants trace on a map the archipelagos along their routes from the Maghreb, or from Bangladesh, to Europe. In Mother Tongue (2012), a chapter of The Speeches Series (2012–13), the words of anticolonial poets and critics are recited by migrants in Paris in languages without written form: Moroccan Arabic, Kabyle, Maninka, and Wolof.
More recent works such as Garden Conversation (2014) and Foreign Office (2015) venture into staged conversations between two protagonists but are again suffused with language and recalled scenarios of the 1950s to 1970s Third World era. As in all of Khalili’s works, the presence of nonprofessional performers heightens the living encounter with history, and through the use of montage offers what Khalili considers an “alternative historiography.”
The Tempest Society (2017) stands as the culmination of this syncretic process in which Khalili constantly maneuvers among the singular voice of the political subject and the shared chorus of the polis. Set in Athens, the work takes its historical cue from al-Assifa—translated as “the Tempest”—a theater group and social project formed by a North African migrant worker and two French students in 1970s Paris. Although featuring a group cast for the first time, the film continues to hone the director’s focus upon the transversal solidarity of what Pier Paolo Pasolini called the “civic poet.” That is, the profound and rebellious possibility of speaking through the singular subject to collective truths in order to transmit a mobilizing and defiant social voice.