agnès b. and Malik Nejmi: “Tara, an enduring awakening to art and the beauty of the world”

© S.Couzinet/Tara Expéditions

Article from new Tara’s 10th journal


Since 2003 the Tara has been crossing the oceans to face environmental challenges and their related issues. Over the course of this scientific odyssey the schooner has never lost sight of what art is and what purpose it serves. This edition is of Tara Expedition News is therefore the perfect opportunity for a meeting between the designer agnès b., co-founder of Tara Expeditions, and Malik Nemji, one of the ship’s artists in residence during the Tara Mediterranean expedition. Interview by Yamina Benaï.

Malik Nejmi

An Odyssey, 2014. © Malik Nejmi

Yamina Benaï: The work you, agnès b., have helped to achieve through the Tara’s expeditions since 2003—at a time when environmental issues were less frequently discussed—is symbolic of your enduring role as a pioneer. Indeed, it has been a recurrent theme in your professional career since the opening of your first shop in 1974, and when your art gallery Galerie du Jour was unveiled in 1984. Your journey is synonymous with an unwavering open mindedness, where does it come from?

agnès b. : This propensity certainly lies in the fact that I grew up surrounded by humanists. My parents, first of all, because they initiated me into classical culture, not only into music, art and literature, but also into being receptive to any form of creative expression and to otherness in general. My teachers were an additional influence. These were educationalists who had a broad spectrum of cultural insight, who displayed an open-minded approach, and who were generous in their sharing of knowledge. You could probably add to this equation some personal attributes: curiosity and a love of creation, combined with the sheer delight of living among a group of people of different generations. All of this encourages me to be permanently mindful of the beauty in this world, whether natural or man-made. Fostering greater awareness and preserving this beauty for future generations is therefore essential.


agnès. b. © P. Planté / Tara Expeditions

As such, the Tara crystallizes my sensitivity for the planet, for art and artists, the true guardians of this world. Furthermore the work I am developing at the gallery, in collaboration with my fabulous team, allows me to engage in what I consider to be an essential task to further my understanding of the artist’s work and what makes a successful exhibition: the hanging. Next to choosing the artists who will exhibit in our gallery, this is my favourite activity. To a certain extent the Galerie du Jour and the Tara present similar attributes. They are both about searching, initiating and engaging in a dialogue with the public. That is why I am pleased to have exhibited for the first time the works of painters, photographers and visual artists whose careers have since rocketed onto the international scene. I am also thrilled to know that around 15,000 people, including 4,000 children, have participated in guided tours of the Tara during the seven months and eighteen stopovers of the latest scientific campaign in the Mediterranean Sea which focused on plastic pollution at sea and its harmful impact.

“Tara crystallizes my sensitivity for the planet, for art and artists,
the true guardians of this world.”

agnès b.

YAMINA BENAÏ : From the very beginning of these scientific expeditions you have been inviting aboard, for one or two-week residencies, various artists such as Sebastiaõ Salgado, Pierre Huygues and Xavier Veilhan. Among these we can include Malik Nejmi whom you personally invited to join the Tara Mediterranean expedition. A French artist born to a Moroccan father, Nejmi seems to touch on something in you which is beyond the realm of his work. He touches on a country which you discovered about forty years ago, which you not only hold close to your heart but also assist by being a sponsor and a benefactor to Tangier’s film library.

agnès b. : Indeed, my first stay in Morocco was work related. I was fabric dyeing in Casablanca for the Pierre d’Alby clothing brand. I learnt a lot with Youssef, a dyeing craftsman in the workshop. Since then I have frequently returned to the country and each journey has turned out to be a rich human and cultural experience. So when I discovered Tangier about twenty years ago, I decided to help preserve the film library, headed back then by artist Yto Barrada. Cinema is a medium which I greatly appreciate as it enables one to convey aesthetic emotions to a very wide audience. Similarly the Tara, throughout her port visits, conveys messages to adults and children alike, whilst always being careful to ensure an educational approach that truly reflects the research undertaken.

Carly Steinbrunn

Movement, 2015. © Carly Steinbrunn

YAMINA BENAÏ : The Tara was designed to be highly functional and, clearly, nothing superfluous is allowed aboard. How is the scientific work accomplished?

agnès b. : The schooner’s watchword is “economy”, not only in her equipment but also the consumables she carries, such as, for example, fresh water. We never lose sight of our environmental purpose. Each project is linked to a specialist laboratory which selects the scientists who will join the crew to carry out the research and sampling operations. The collected samples are then sent off for analysis in the laboratories of various countries, and each expedition gives rise to journal articles and conferences. Tara Expeditions purpose is, obviously, to raise awareness but her remit is also to come up with answers to the pressing issues of the coming two decades. We are pleased to learn that, from 2016, single-use plastic shopping bags will be banned from retail shops in France. A real contribution can be pinned on each expedition.

After exploring the Arctic, our meeting with CNRS research director Éric Karsenti encouraged us to work on plankton, those invisible ecosystems which do so much for us every day. Éric would go on to be scientific director of the resulting Tara Oceans expedition. After investigating the extent of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, our next mission will be devoted to studying coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean and Asia.

“While on the Tara I decided to focus on the notion of wonder…
I invited each person aboard to pose in my cabin,
to close their eyes and think of the most wonderful thing
they had seen during the expedition.”

Malik Nejmi

Emmanuel Régent - Ile - Tara - feutre a encre pigmentaire sur papier- 130 x 220 cm - 2015 - courtesy Caroline Smulders, Analix Forever Genève, Galerie Baraudou Schriqui Pari

The Island, 2015, Courtesy Caroline Smulders. © Emmanuel Régent

YAMINA BENAÏ : Not simply a communicator of the scientific knowledge gained at sea, the Tara also conveys the ocean’s natural wonders through the eyes of artists who sail aboard her. From their observations come artworks steeped in their unique sensitivity and imagination. Malik Nejmi, apparently agnès b. gave you a specific theme for reflection, the notion of “intimacy”. So what do you take from this unusual experience of having to share the daily lives of sailors and scientists during a five-day journey from Barcelona to Tangier?

MALIK NEJMI : The theme given to me by agnès b. provided a starting point from which I literally sailed. I exploited all the markers aboard, all the human data shared by crew members and scientists alike. Conditioned by my own feelings, it was like a journey of initiation straight to the heart of my father’s native land. It was also a symbolic yet powerful immersion into the sea, the realms of its beauty, its infinite yet treacherous nature. From the outset, an atmosphere of goodwill reigned on board. It immediately removed any distracting thoughts and allowed me to go straight to the essential: my creative work. While on the Tara I decided to focus on the notion of wonder triggered by the idea of a journey from one universe to another, a return to my father. I invited each person aboard to pose in my cabin, to close their eyes and, while their heads embraced the vessel’s rolling motion, think of the most wonderful thing they had seen during the expedition. I filmed each of them for one minute, thus delivering and sharing a moment of intimacy and wonder which each viewer can reinvent at will. The resulting video (An Odyssey, 16 minutes) is, perhaps, akin to a scientific dream. On the strength of this experience, one recurring thought became an integral part of the video: “I have never been happier on earth than at sea” ¬

Interview by Yamina Benaï

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A call for artists-in-residence projects for the next Tara expedition – Tara PACIFIC 2016-2018

Tara Expeditions is offering artist-in-residencies aboard the schooner during the upcoming Tara PACIFIC expedition. Artists are invited to submit their projects before April 3, 2016.

Find full informations here.

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Other articles from Tara’s 10th Journal:

Voices for the Ocean: zoom on MR. GOODFISH
Voices for the Ocean: zoom on Algalita
The Ocean, our common project
Plankton: Lifting the Lid on a Mysterious World
Polar Research: Ice in the Water
Climate System: High Seas Emergency
Plankton Planet: Oceanography 2.0

Download the whole Tara’s 10th journal here