Documents of Diaspora: The Boccaras in Ntifa, 1971/2011

By Emma Chubb
Submitted to Session P4823 (Imagery in Jewish Morocco, 2017 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In 1971, Cecile and Henri Boccara took a 16mm film camera from their home in Marrakech to Ntifa in Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains. By then, the majority of Morocco’s Jews had already left the country and the community’s disappearance into diaspora loomed on the horizon. Once there, the Boccaras filmed the village’s last seven Jewish families just before they too departed for France and Israel. With its soft colors and over- and under-saturation due to the natural lighting, their silent footage captures a range of people, places, and activities in and around Ntifa and bears traces of the technology of its making. This archive would likely have remained out of view had it not been for the Boccaras’ son, the filmmaker Ivan Boccara, who found the unedited reels in 2000. Since then, these archives have been the foundation for an ongoing artistic and cinematic exploration of the intersection of memory, history, and the emigration of Morocco’s once large and geographically dispersed Jewish community. In “Memoires de Ntifa (Memories of Ntifa),” an art installation created for the 2012 Paris Triennale based on the inherited archives, Boccara juxtaposes the archival footage with a short documentary describing his difficulties finding and filming those whom his parents met in 1971. Many Ntifi Jews, simply, did not consent to appear before his camera. “Memoires de Ntifa” thus raises critical questions about past and present images of Morocco’s Jewish communities in art, visual culture, and their critical reception. Boccara, I contend in this analysis, proposes an alternative aesthetic approach to representing Morocco’s Jewish communities at a time when the complete disappearance from Moroccan soil appears inevitable and with subjects who resist the kinds of public historicization and memorialization such a project would seem to require. In so doing, "Memoires de Ntifa" eschews the Orientalist, colonialist, and nationalist tropes that historically defined visual representations of Morocco’s Jews and it critiques the kinds of visibility and transparency that documentary and ethnographic representation have long purported to provide.