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Empty Vessels: Matthew Galloway & Desert Narratives: Mohamed Sleiman Labat

Website Matthew Galloway Empty Vessels 2023 detail

Matthew Galloway, film still from Empty Vessels, 2023.
Image courtesy of the artist.

9 December 2023 – 10 March 2024

Exploring the shifting political grounds of global food production, Empty Vessels and Desert Narratives is a dialogue between Aotearoa New Zealand artist Matthew Galloway and Sahrawi Western Saharan artist Mohamed Sleiman Labat. The two, who have had an ongoing correspondence since meeting in 2016, present different perspectives on Aotearoa’s reliance on phosphate rock from Western Sahara. Phosphate is mineral rock used to make fertiliser, partly fuelling Aotearoa’s high-performing agricultural industry. However, the resource is controlled by Morocco’s violent occupation of the region, which has displaced the Sahrawi people from their land.

In 2022, while living in Ōtepoti Dunedin, Galloway began recording the movement of ships carrying phosphate from the Western Sahara to the Otago Peninsula. These ships first dock in New Zealand shores at Ahuriri, Napier’s port, before moving south. In the gallery, Galloway has developed an installation tracing the movement of these ships, while also displaying 10 years of shipping data that seems to suggest that — in the face of growing public pressure over the ethics of this trade — New Zealand fertiliser company, Ravensdown, may be moving away from using phosphate from this region.

Also included is Desert Narratives, an experimental documentary film by Sleiman Labat. From on the ground in the Sahrawi refugee camps located in Algeria, the film looks at the story of phosphate and growing food in the desert, weaving together multiple narratives about sand particles, plants, human and mineral displacement. The film explores connections between ecological justice and indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world, challenging colonial and environmental violence in mineral extractions.

Matthew Galloway lives and works in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. His research-based practice employs the tools and methodologies of design in an editorial way, and often within a gallery context. This way of working emphasises design and publishing as an inherently political exercise.

Mohamed Sleiman Labat is a Sahrawi visual artist and a poet, based in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algerian territory. He was born and raised in these camps. In 2016, after graduating from Batna University, Algeria, with a degree in English literature, Sleiman Labat returned to his community. Sleiman Labat has built a multipurpose community and artist studio space called Motif Art Studio in the Samara camp. The studio itself is built from discarded materials which Sleiman Labat has collected.


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