Forum Box, Monttu, Helsinki. Together with Mohamed Sleiman Labat, 2023.
Small scale family gardens started to emerge in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the Hamada Desert, southwest Algeria around 2002. Leading figures in the process are Sahrawi agricultural engineers and gardeners who have been researching and developing the garden practices together with the families. The theories and practices have become rulebased knowledge in the community.
Gardens and agricultural knowledge are starting to change the food production for this community where dependency on international aid has been the case since the arrival of the Sahrawi to the refugee camps in 1975. Earlier the Sahrawi were pastoralist nomads in Western Sahara. Pekka Niskanen and Mohamed Sleiman Labat follow in their artistic research project the multi-layered story of phosphate in the Baltic region as well as in the Sahrawi Refugee camps in Hamada Desert. The project deals with phosphate and its effects on two vastly different environments. Phosphate from Western Sahara has ended up in the Baltic Sea to cause eutrophication.
Pekka Niskanen: In the previous research on “Family Gardens, an Emerging Discourse in the Sahrawi Community” Niskanen and Mohamed Sleiman Labat have observed the emergence of small scale family gardens in the Saharawi community in the Hamada Desert. The article appreciates how gardens and agricultural knowledge are starting to change people’s perception about food production and diet. Especially for this community where dependency on international aid has been the case since the arrival of the Saharawi to the refugee camps in Algeria in 1975. Niskanen was an artist in residence at Villa Lante at the end of summer 2022 invetigating community gardens in Rome.
Mohamed Sleiman Labat: Born and raised in the Sahrawi Refugee Camps southwest Algeria, my art draws upon the past and present life of the Sahrawi people. In 2015 I created Motif Art Studio after destructive floods in Samara Camp. The studio was built from the discarded materials and broken furniture. The studio organizes different art collaborations, interactive sessions and art talks. It also includes an experimental garden to grow vegetables and plants next to the studio. The garden provides some food for our family as well as an escape from the harsh desert hot environment. My art practice aims to address pressing social and environmental issues.