What do all exiles have in common, starting with the first one, Ulysses, who took twenty years to return to his island after the Trojan War? A sense of unreality, perhaps. Bound as we are to our surroundings, to voices, to dreams, we suddenly find ourselves far away from them and we must learn once more to look, and to hear. Rif Spahni’s photos illustrate this unreality in the guise of a hallucination in the Tindouf Saharan refugee camps in southeast Algeria. It is there that a temporary site has become home to several generations; time has stopped. Nothing seems to advance, nothing seems capable of realization. It is an illusion, the same one that everybody has experienced who has been forced at some time to leave their land because it has been occupied or governed by others. The desert is the same, yet here they have had to learn the name of every oasis, every mound and well. In their land the landscape was a personal geography; here there are no references, or those there are, are provisional even for those who have been born in these shelter tents. Everything is in waiting for the day the camps are dismantled and all that remains of this desert is the memory of exile.
Rif Spahni (Mallorca, 1972) carried out this essay at the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, at the South Eastern Algeria, during the years 2005 a 2007.