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In Two Shows in New York, Yto Barrada Mingles Politics and Play

A few years ago, the French Moroccan artist Yto Barrada visited MoMA PS1, in Queens, following an invitation to create a site-specific work for the museum’s courtyard. As soon as she entered the space, she noticed its walls. Tall and made of concrete, they reminded her of the old city ramparts and Brutalist architecture in Tangier, where she grew up and still spends part of each year.

“When I’m thinking of walls, I’m also thinking of symbolic walls, power structures,” Barrada tells me over video chat from her Brooklyn studio. Creating an outdoor, large-scale sculpture was a first for Barrada, but responding to power structures has been at the core of her cross-disciplinary practice for more than two decades.

As she worked on her installation—an arrangement of massive, brightly colored concrete blocks called “Le Grand Soir”—Barrada pulled from other influences that often show up in her work: labor, play, cultural histories. Such themes also appear in a concurrent solo show of Barrada’s photo-based work at the International Center of Photography, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Though disparate in scale and material and coincidental in timing, as a pair, MoMA PS1’s “Le Grand Soir” and ICP’s “Part-Time Abstractionist” speak to the many ways Barrada explores the social forces that shape our world.

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