News - Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage


Responding to lockdown restrictions, Somerset House invites you on a virtual tour of its new exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage, guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun...


Press Release

Forming the first major UK retrospective of works from the celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist Leila Alaoui, the exhibition opened to coincide with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in October. For those who missed it in its opening weeks, the virtual tour offers the opportunity to still discover Alaoui’s timely and moving work, and gain insight into the evolution of her practice, before she was tragically killed in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 whilst working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. 


Acclaimed for capturing and preserving the unseen stories of individuals and communities displaced by conflict and unrest, Alaoui was strongly committed to getting to know the communities and people she met, resulting in her sincere and authentic bodies of work. The virtual tour introduces three of her defining series featured in Rite of Passage. No Pasara documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe, Natreen (We Wait) follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, Les Marocains meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco. The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable (Devil’s Island), on which she was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris. Brought all together, Alaoui’s works form a timely reminder of the extraordinary journeys and challenges people face each day. 


In a time where access to cultural institutions and events returns to virtual spaces, Eshun’s tour through Rite of Passage encourages viewers to consider those who so often become lost and misrepresented behind waves of news coverage and statistics. Encountering Alaoui’s life-size portraits from their own homes, viewers come face-to-face with the people she met, creating a powerful sense of intimacy. 


Audiences can also enjoy a special online talk between Eshun and acclaimed photographer Hassan Hajaj, as they reflect on Rite of Passage and the great sensitivity Alaoui applied to her practice.


Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage will reopen in Somerset House’s Terrace Rooms as soon as government guidance permits.

Image credits: Natreen by Leila Alaoui, 2013. Tamesloht, 2011 from the series Les Marocains by Leila Alaoui. No Pasara by Leila Alaoui, 2008. All images courtesy of Foundation Leila Alaoui & GALLERIA CONTINUA