FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

SEIF KOUSMATE

WAHA واحة

In ‘Waha واحة ‘ we are introduced to the unique culture-nature of the Oases of Morocco based on in-depth research and collaboration with local inhabitants and tendants of these centuries old cultures in the middle of the desert. Moroccan photographer Seif Kousmate presents a documentary-poetic project that dismantles stereotypes of the oasis and unfolds the exceptional relationship between man and nature in these environments that are dealing with the pressing issues of climate change and burning heat. A phenomena that he literally mirrors and incorporates into his final works.

“I wanted to create a new narrative, one that goes beyond the superficial image of oases and explores these territories through the stories of their inhabitants and their daily life, as well as the development of their environment over the last decades, and obviously how they see the future and the transmission of all their knowledge to the next generations.”

— Seif Kousmate

ENTANGLEMENT

Burning hot oases

Project: WAHA واحة, by Seif Kousmate

In WAHA واحة, which means Oasis in Arabic Moroccan photographer Seif Kousmate takes us on a journey to demystify the orientalist fantasies surrounding the idea of an oasis and sheds light on the pressing environmental and economic challenges the Moroccan oases face. WAHA  واحة, explores the intricate relationship between humans and nature in a very special environment. The project moves beyond the myths to reveal the systems, cultures, history and human ingenuity that birthed and sustained these ecosystems. 

In the last century, Morocco lost two-thirds of its 14 million palm trees as a consequence of environmental changes. The inhabitants of the Moroccan oases, where many of these trees grow and have sustained communities for centuries, abandon their lands and migrate to cities in search of a better life. While nature laid the foundation these peoples have played a pivotal role in shaping a unique culture and preserving the delicate balance between water, flora, soil, and climate in the unforgiving desert environment. 

Seif Kousmate // WAHA واحة

A collaborative approach

The heart of WAHA  واحة, lies in the collaboration between the photographer and the people he photographs. Kousmate builds a profound connection with the communities, recognizing the importance of their participation in telling the story of their struggles and resilience. This collaborative approach adds depth to the narrative and allows the project to move beyond a superficial portrayal of deterioration.

“I always try to understand the meaning and the complexity of the area by collecting interviews. I therefore spent between ten and fifteen days each time I travelled to an oasis to photograph to build my connections and build trust with the people there. Giving them an opportunity to tell their stories. Most of the time, they wanted to tell their stories and it resulted in several collaborations, such as the poem that runs from the roots of the palm trees or a collage inspired by drawings from kids of their environment.”

Dismantling the Orientalist image

As Kousmate immerses himself in the oasis communities of North Africa, he confronts the stark reality of their existence. Through intimate documentation, he captures the lives of local inhabitants, bringing forth the environmental and economic hardships that threaten their lands and heritage. The images, however, strive to transcend the stereotypical representations of oases, aiming to dismantle the ‘orientalist and Eden-like image’ that has dominated the collective imagination.

Seif Kousmate // WAHA واحة - A Landscape of Akka Oasis

Poetic interventions of the documentary process

To break free from the traditional documentary mold, Kousmate introduces interventions in his photographs, a metaphorical extension of the deterioration occurring in the oases. The words of the inhabitants are present as poems and texts expressing their experiences with fires, deteriorating landscapes, and the challenges they face. This structure builds a stronger connection between portrayer and portrayees, creating a powerful network not only to the space but also to the ones that uphold it. 

“I saw that when adding layers to my photos, the message became more meaningful. At that moment, I decided to develop a metaphoric narrative of what was going on there. After that, I progressively started to think about the fire, which set off in the oasis on several occasions: how can I integrate it into the image? I started making prints, which I burned using different techniques, to see the results. In the end, I found a technique that allowed me to visually convey the deterioration. This way the audience is instantly connected to the story and feels what is happening in these environments.”

Mirroring the deterioration in the artistic process

Kousmate experiments with various processes to tactilize the essence of the problem these oases are facing in the final artworks. From burning the prints, weaving them with palm tree bark to decorating them with soil or using acid. The interventions not only contribute to the conceptual depth of the series but also serve as a powerful commentary on the rapid deterioration of these ecosystems. 

WAHA  واحة, emphasises the inseparable link between humans and their environment. The historical and cultural development of oases, shaped by human efforts, establishes a delicate balance that is now threatened by climate change. In the interconnected double-edged dance between the people and the oasis, the series acknowledges humanity’s role in creating and potentially destroying these precious ecosystems.

Seif Kousmate // WAHA واحة - portrait of Mustapha responsible for water distribution in the oasis

ENTANGLEMENT

“While we, humans, did not create oases, we have played a major role in the origin and development of these ecosystems in several ways. We have managed to maintain a delicate and fragile balance between water, flora, soil, and climate in this hostile environment that is the desert. Thus preserving for centuries a great testimony and a large part of the history of these territories. This hard work also resulted in the oases being a safe and fertile space for huge communities to develop and thrive. As a result, the sustainability of the oasis and its heritage is closely dependent on the continuous effort of humans and governments to protect and understand the new challenges and needs that are ahead of us.”

— Seif Kousmate

ARTIST BIO

Seif Kousmate is a self-taught photographer who has developed a visual vocabulary entwining documentary photography with a poetic visual language leaning into fine art photography. After a career in the civil engineering sector, he dedicated himself professionally to photography in 2016. Since then, he has been working on different visual projects in Africa including migration and youth.

Selected achievements

  • – 2022 Winner of Prix de la photographie du Musée Quai Branly with «Waha»
  • – 2022 Nominated for the leica oskar barnack award
  • – 2022 Shortlisted for Louis Roederer Discovery Award 
  • – 2021 Winner of the 6Mois Award with «Waha» 
  • – 2021 Finalist of le Prix Levallois with «Waha»