Inspired by North African oral traditions, I tell the story of three species - the barbary lion, Silphium and Salmo pallaryi - extinct in North Africa as a result of over-consumption, capitalism, and colonialism.
The barbary lion lived in the mountains and deserts of Morocco and Algeria alongside people for thousands of years. During the Roman Empire, they were hunted extensively and used as part of spectacles in amphitheaters. The population was further reduced by French colonial hunters who shot the last recorded lion in the Atlas mountains of Morocco in 1922. The Tower of London had barbary lions in their menagerie collection between the 13th and 15th centuries and their skulls are on permanent display at the Natural History Museum.
Silphium was a fennel-like plant that grew on the coast of Libya. It was used by locals to treat fever, nausea, snakebites, epilepsy, and as birth control, and the whole plant was also eaten and grated onto dishes as a seasoning. This knowledge was adopted by Greek and then Roman settlers who monetised it, exporting it across the Mediterranean. Pliny the Elder called it “among the most precious gifts presented to us by nature”, and it is believed to have been part of Julius Caesar’s treasury. It can be found on Roman coins from Libya, and its heart shaped seeds are understood to have influenced the connection between the heart and love. According to Pliny, the last plant was gifted to Emperor Nero and promptly eaten.
Salmo pallaryi was a trout endemic to Lake Aguelman de Sidi Ali in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. It quickly went extinct after French colonial settlers introduced common carp, and are now represented by just two taxidermied specimens held in the collections of French museums.
There are so many layers of loss and disconnection folded into this piece - my dad reading it aloud in a language that he had to learn, that isn’t his own, with footage shot by my family in Morocco where we spent our summers instead of Algeria which a long Civil War prevented.
This was made as part of a 5 month long residency with A.MAL collective during which me and 5 other artists explored sustainability relations between the Global North and South, using Agar algae as a starting point. It was shown as part of 2 exhibitions: In, Among and Between at ONCA 26.11.2021 - 28.01.2022, and Red Gold at P21 Gallery (29.10.2021 - 04.11.2021)
Text & edit: Leila Gamaz
Narrator: Kamal Gamaz
Languages: Narration (English) Subtitles (Darija - translated by Yassamine Ghazzali)
Footage: VHS Gamaz family archive footage shot in Morocco in the ‘90s
Year of production: 2021