When asked to describe himself in a few words, he chooses these: poet – a good listener – between two countries. Malik Nejmi is certainly all of these, but he boarded Tara as a photographer between Barcelona and Tangier. For a week, the artist shared his enthusiasm with the crew, never losing a moment to photograph what he was observing on deck, with a new vision of things. Malik tidied up and left his cabin this morning. A last minute interview with the last artist-in-residence of the Tara Mediterranean expedition.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Orléons – my father was Moroccan and my mother French. It therefore made sense for me to do this leg to Tangier. I am self-taught and have been doing photography since 1999. I started in Benin (Africa), then I did work in Morocco about the family, a story, my story, a complex father-son relationship with a Dad who did not want to return to Morocco, but didn’t say why. My status as an immigrant son joins that of the photographer, and I make photos at “home” to bring back my father. That’s what makes my work and who I am.
What was your project aboard Tara?
It completely changed. I couldn’t come aboard with a preconceived plan, even though I had lots of ideas in my head. I especially had ideas about the Strait of Gibraltar, on the question of passage in relation to all those people who want to leave Africa and migrate to Europe. I wanted to combine my own return to Morocco with the fate of those who want to leave, using visual poetry.
Recently, I discovered the story of “polizone” through the work of Paloma Maquet, a researcher working on the situation of illegal immigrants on merchant ships. She explains that there is a legal vacuum for illegal immigrants who are caught on cargo ships in the Mediterranean. There have been 300 to 400 cases of living persons who disappeared during these crossings during the past 5 or 6 years.
In fact, I thought I would start doing some work on this theme aboard Tara, but finally it wasn’t relevant here. I found a crew, and a different way of looking at things.
How did your project change once on board?
My secret project remained secret! In general, I work a lot “by ear.” I listened to what people had to tell me. I like stories and I need them to recreate something.
Listening is also “seeing silently.” So I was listening to eyes. I was impressed by the sailors’ eyes which could seem lost for a minute, sometimes gave me the impression of taking me apart, or were simply expressing fatigue. I think the sailors have the faces of heros.
I started filming the sea, which I didn’t think of doing at first because I don’t like the idea of being an artist on board and making an “art film.” Tara is also a human experience. So I made portraits. I set up a small studio in my cabin with a black backdrop. I asked all the Taranautes to close their eyes for a minute and let mental images appear. I made some silent videos which will be matched with images of the sea, depending on what these people felt. I’ll associate sounds recorded on the boat, such as the motors, which are often running. The project will evoke the wonderful part of our adventure on Tara.
Interviewed by Noëlie Pansiot