By Mounira Chaieb, Editor, Presenter and Mentor at the ALC
July 13, 2021
French Algerian visual artist Rachid Koraichi has created a unique cemetery to provide a dignified final resting place for hundreds of unburied migrants and refugees of all ages, nationalities and religions. The migrants’ bodies have been washed ashore along the coastline of Zarzis in the South East of Tunisia.
The Secretary-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, inaugurated ‘the Garden of Africa’, as Koraichi called it in June. During the ceremony, Azoulay presented a small metal sculpture entitled The Tree of Peace that has been installed in the garden. Situated on a 2,500m2 plot of agricultural land that Koraichi purchased with his two daughters from a local farmer, Jardin d’Afrique will feature hand-made ceramic tiles and a number of plants such as jasmine shrubs and citrus trees.
There is a DNA testing facility onsite to archive genetic data taken from the remains in the hope that they may one day be identified by relatives. No one would be buried without taking their DNA first and informing all the embassies in Tunis of the countries the migrants came from of the codes.
But the absence of African ambassadors at the ceremony typified a widespread lack of concern about migrant deaths, Koraichi said in an interview. “They are meant to be in charge but take no responsibility for these tragic losses,” the artist added.
UNHCR reported that at least 500 people died trying to cross the central Mediterranean this year, more than triple the figure in the same period of 2020. They came from countries such as Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Egypt and Pakistan.
Koraichi views the garden as a symbolic place, similar to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He knows first – hand the agonies of thousands of grieving relatives who will never find closure for loved ones who vanished without a trace. When he was 17 his elder brother, Mohamed went missing from the beach in Algeria after being swept out to sea by the riptide. His body was never found.
“This happened in those same waters now claiming hundreds of victims, many of whom are also young men full of promise. I saw how the trauma of that accident affected my family and watched my mother grieve for her missing son until the day she died,” Koraichi said in an interview.
Koraichi’s creative explorations have extended across an impressive array of media, which include ceramics, textiles, bronze, wood and paintings on silk, paper or canvas and much more. Over his long career, Koraïchi has been influenced by a fascination with signs, symbols and scripts drawn from a variety of languages and cultures, which he integrates to create his mixed media installations. These large-scale projects employ an array of diverse elements that are commonly executed in widely divergent places, sometimes in collaboration with practitioners of ancient, traditional crafts or, again, employing the most sophisticated of modern technological advances.
Tears that Taste of the Sea is the name of an exhibition of Koraichi’s new work at the October Gallery in London that finished in June. He worked on this during this past year of the global pandemic, when Koraichi found himself isolated in ‘lockdown’ in Barcelona, Spain. It includes seven blue and white ceramic vases from the Lachrymatoires Bleues series, three sets of seven paintings from the Handkerchiefs of Hope series. They are related by their emphasis on the innumerable tears shed mourning the loss of loved ones, for reasons of displacement, migration and disaster, or the harrowing effects of the present pandemic and the unending wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen today and the endless streams of refugees fleeing their homes in search of a new life in the West.
Born in 1947 in Ain Beida in Algeria, Koraichi is known for making works on memory and durable development. In 2005, he developed the Jardin d’Orient at Château Royal d’Amboise (where Leonardo da Vinci is buried), in France’s Loire Valley, in homage to Emir Abdelkader, Algeria’s 19th-century nationalist leader who was once imprisoned in the château.
Koraichi lives between Tunisia and France.