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World’s Largest Graffiti, 2012

Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria

For more than three decades, tens of thousands of people have lived in tents in the Smara Refugee Camp in Algeria. In October 2012, Santiago Sierra had the letters S.O.S. engraved into the desert floor outside the camp using a road grader, creating the world’s largest piece of graffiti: 5 kilometers long and 1.7 kilometers wide, with a contour extending for 37 kilometers. Sierra’s emergency call inscribed on the landscape recalls the ongoing occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, which began in 1975 and has driven a large majority of the population into exile; most refugees have been stranded in camps in Algeria. To this day, Morocco, backed by France, has ignored UN resolutions and rulings of the International Court of Justice demanding the return of the occupied territory to the region’s tribes. The refugees will manifestly not be able to count on earthly assistance, and so Santiago Sierra chose a size and orientation for his S.O.S. that make it seem addressed to an observer in outer space. His “world’s largest piece of graffiti” was documented in a picture taken by the satellite Ikonos III.

Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, C-Print, Diasec, 240 × 450.8 cm
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, C-Print, Diasec, 240 × 450.8 cm, detail
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, C-Print, Diasec, 240 × 450.8 cm, detail
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, C-Print, Diasec, 240 × 450.8 cm, detail

C-Print, Diasec, 240 × 450.8 cm

Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, HD Video, b/w, sound, 16:9, 1:13 h, videostill
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, HD Video, b/w, sound, 16:9, 1:13 h, videostill
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, HD Video, b/w, sound, 16:9, 1:13 h, videostill
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, HD Video, b/w, sound, 16:9, 1:13 h, videostill
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, HD Video, b/w, sound, 16:9, 1:13 h, videostill
Santiago Sierra, World’s Largest Graffiti. Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria. October 2012, HD Video, b/w, sound, 16:9, 1:13 h, videostill

HD Video, b/w, sound, 16:9, 1:13 h

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Santiago Sierra

Santiago Sierra's oeuvre stands out from the art history of the past 30 years like a massive black monolith. The Spaniard, who was born in 1966 and also lived in Latin America, knows like no other how to use the established forms and rules of contemporary art to give the violence and injustice of Western modernity a face - a face that is our own. The formal language of minimalism, in its distanced, cool way, is particularly suited to being short-circuited with the abstract economic and institutional apparatuses that bind people into the dehumanized conditions of production, migration, (self-)exploitation, and stigmatization. Those conditions, in other words, that guarantee the privileges of most of the viewers to whom Sierra's work addresses itself in the art world. Not everyone likes that. Sierra is the living shadow in the repressed bad conscience of power and money, with which people rule over people. His work has been honored institutionally many times, and in 2003 he represented Spain at the Venice Biennale.



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