The multimedia installation Deserted – Episode 1 (2023), comprising of photos, video and text, takes us to Western Sahara, a territory that is under illegal occupation by the neighbouring country of Morocco. While half the people of Western Sahara have fled the territory since Morocco’s invasion in 1975, its resources are today still commercialized by Morocco.
Since 2011, Mario Pfeifer has repeatedly travelled to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony on the Atlantic coast of Northwest Africa. In 1965, the UN called for decolonization and a referendum on self-determination for the people living there. Although Spain withdrew in 1975, they left the entire area to the countries of Morocco and Mauritania for division in the so-called Madrid Accord. Mauritania withdrew in 1979, and officially the US and EU support the UN resolutions. Nevertheless, several countries can still conclude trade agreements that affect the territory of Western Sahara with Morocco without sanctions.
Deserted – Episode 1, is a conglomerate of works dealing with the ongoing illegal occupation, the plight of the displaced population, and the sale of natural resources by Morocco. The subject matter is presented cartographically and chronologically; the most significant historical facts are arranged on a timeline, while various conflict areas are identified on a map. Pfeifer shows two photo series depicting the city of Dakhla: once the original coastal city located in the occupied territory today, and the camp in Algeria named after it because it housed the people arriving from Dakhla.
Also on display is a new video work: In A Garden That Means More Than a Garden (2023), in which a man, Taleb, who came to a refugee camp at the age of five in 1975 and returned there after his studies abroad, tells of his life as a displaced person, his gratitude for the reception and support in Algeria, and his hope that the Sahrawis may one day return to their homeland. For Taleb, this hope drives him to actively prepare for better times: as a graduate in agricultural sciences, he conceived a successful small-scale closed-loop economy in a desert under the most difficult conditions, producing enough food for self-sufficiency.