Hamza Halloubi texts

The Passenger

Elena Tzotzi





The passage of time. The passage of years. The passage of events. The passage of stories.

The language of Hamza Halloubi is personal, and yet universal. Poetic, and yet factual. His voice, his gaze follows a meandering movement that travels from one reading to another with simplicity, and yet elegant complexity. He allows words and images to lead lives of their own, widening the gaps between themselves and the world they represent. Homelessness, exile, history, art – intricate relationships unfold, but they never end with a simple conclusion. They keep unfolding into new relationships leaving behind a restless unease. The world is complicated, it is unfair, it is full of contradictions - why comply with the illusion that it is not so. Instead, we are left with a melancholic feeling, a longing for something better.


In Letter from Tangier (2014) there is this wall, an image that is appropriated by Halloubi time and time again. A symbolic image that evokes many thoughts; it is strong, beautiful, violent. But above all it is a promising horizon blocked by a barrier. A barrier that reminds you of the limit between self and other, between written and spoken, between image and sound, between fiction and reality. A physical and mental boundary at once holding you back while forcing you to surpass it. This image is juxtaposed with the fate of the Gran Teatro Cervantes and the life of Larbi Yacoubi. Now abandoned and in ruins, the Gran Teatro Cervantes was once a grandiose manifestation of the Spanish influence on Tangier. Its trajectory reads like the condensed version of colonialism and independence forming the history of this city. Larbi Yacoubi performed at this theater. His life is a passage through the transitions of history, but his memory fails him. Or perhaps, it fails the attempt to compile a linear narrative that cannot be told.


The difficulty of telling stories when faced with reality is a recurrent quest that occupies a central position in the work of Hamza Halloubi. Using film as his primary tool, he conducts a journey of images that addresses the boundary between fiction and documentary paired with a continuous and persistent interest in the challenge of creating fiction when reality is too complex to be documented.


Following a stay in Jerusalem to work on a project that intended to look at the way the sacred city has been portrayed by artists and writers during the 19th and 20th century, every attempt seemed only to lead towards a certain failure and despair. With Michael in Jerusalem (2015), a simple two-minute camera movement turns into a saturated glimpse of conflicting views, multiple truths and diametrically opposed positions. In the pictorial centre of the scene, a stone. To “clean Palestinian poetry of stones” in the words of poet and author Mahmoud Darwish is to believe in the power of poetry to withstand a cultural occupation of the mind. Words/images as depositories of societal memories and witnesses to human conditions.


The desire of an image, its moral and its meaning, while it borders between a state of concealment and visibility is a topic addressed in Passage (2015). The camera is resting in Halloubi's pocket while he visits the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. Upon entering the holy site a police officer asks the obligatory questions of who you are, why you are there and what is the purpose of your visit. Questions all too familiar from various points of passage separating one part of the world from another. The guard eventually let's him through, while adding the words: You are dangerous.


Ignorance is dangerous. Amnesia is dangerous. Accepting received ideas without question is dangerous. But recording the passage of time and space in an endless pursuit of knowledge can only be a journey of missteps and contradictions. It is the only way to travel alongside the contrasting views that add up to the narrative of our time.