Mixed technique using fire on a paper print. Portrait of Mustapha, the man responsible for the distribution of water in the oasis. January 2021 Tighmert, Morocco. © Seif Kousmate

WAHA  واحة

Seif Kousmate

2020-2024 — Morocco

About this series

The existence of oases has always been a very mystical and almost magical concept in collective imagery. Even to me as a Moroccan who grew up in the south of Morocco, they have been a curious and intriguing territory. Demystifying the “miraculous” aspect of these places is what initially drew me to understand more about life in the oases, as they are experiencing a transition.
Behind the myths and orientalist representations of oases lie systems, cultures, innovation, and the human ingenuity of our ancestors. Their strong and deep connection to earth and nature allowed them to sustain these ecosystems. While we, humans, did not create oases, we have played a major role in the origin and development of these ecosystems in several ways. We have managed to maintain a delicate and fragile balance between water, flora, soil, and climate in the hostile environment that is the desert thus preserving for centuries a great testimony and a large part of the history of these territories.
The series “WAHA واحة” (oasis in Arabic) is a four-years research to understand the complex relationship between humans and their environment. Here, the oasis throws us into a simplified ecosystem of what happens on a larger scale, reminding us of the fact that we, humans, are capable of building and nurturing whole ecosystems but also destroying them in the blink of an eye.
Within this context, how can one not fall into the orientalist and Eden-like image of the oasis ? How can one convey the reality of the deterioration of oases through images? These are the questions that guided my process throughout this series.
I wanted to explore and experiment with new processes and visual narratives to extend the metaphor of degradation within the oasis. My photographic series involves external and organic elements (such as dry dates, dead skin of palm trees, soil …) that are intimately linked to the spaces I chose to photograph. Hence, contextual layers were progressively and experimentally added to the photos, making my photographic series a work that is both documentary and conceptual, taking us back and forth between the reality of the present and the deterioration to come.

Curator Taous Dahmani reviewed “ Thus, content and form, subject and materiality merge to question issues of representation. Both in the photographer’s art and at the surface of the image, poetry and politics flicker, to tell the story of the ecological, economic and social reality of today’s oases.”

© Seif Kousmate
Mixed technique- Hassan (left) and Abderrahman are brothers from the Tighmert oasis. After the passing of their father in 2013, Hassan left school and took on the responsibility of the family. Abderrahman, the younger brother, dreams of leaving the oasis to join their two older brothers abroad. He sees his future elsewhere and believes that the land of the oasis does not give enough return for the effort one puts into it. September 2020 Tighmert, Morocco. © Seif Kousmate
Ahmed cleaning the water source of Tighmert oasis from seaweed. This thirty-year-old man is one of the few who chose to stay in his oasis and created an association to welcome artists to talk about his oasis. He invites visual artists, painters, and those who create and are interested in the local culture. Ahmed's goal is to attract more tourists and to develop an eco friendly tourism in Tighmert. September 2020 Tighmert, Morocco. © Seif Kousmate
Mixed Technique - A landscape of the oasis of Tighmert paired with a poem by Ibrahim Rajeaa - an inhabitant of the same oasis; His poem tells the suffering of the oasis and its deterioration over the past years by describing the suffering of the roots of Palm trees. September 2020 Tighmert, Morocco. Palm tree roots in the ground weep for their fruits at the surface Palm tree roots in the ground weep as their water springs are sold Palm tree roots in the ground lament because of those who used to rest in their shade Palm tree roots in the ground weep for being sold for cheap Palm tree roots in the ground weep for those it grew its piths for Palm tree roots in the ground weep for those who had forgotten its favor Palm tree roots in the ground weep as its water basin is sold We will never forget who caused this tragedy - Translation from Arabic of a poem by Ibrahim Rajeaa, from the Oasis of Tighmert. © Seif Kousmate
Mixed technique using fire and acid on a paper print. Detail of M'hammed's foot in perfect harmony with the palm tree. M'hammed's job is to go up and collect dates from the top of the palm trees. He is one of the last people to do so in his oasis as it is a dangerous job because he has to climb up to fifteen meters or more without any safety; The new generation is totally disinterested in taking over these tasks. February 2022 Tinghir, Morocco. © Seif Kousmate
© Seif Kousmate
© Seif Kousmate
© Seif Kousmate
© Seif Kousmate
© Seif Kousmate

Photographer: Seif Kousmate
Nationality: Moroccan
Based in: Tangier, Morocco
Instagram: @seif.kousmate

Seif Kousmate (b. 1988, Essaouira, Morocco), is a self-taught Morocco-based visual storyteller. He developed a visual vocabulary that stands between documentary photography and the poetry of fine art photography. After a career as a Project Manager in the civil engineering sector, he dedicated himself professionally to photography in 2016. Since then, he has been working on different visual projects in Africa around migration, youth, and marginalization. With his latest series, “Waha واحة”, a four years essay on the oases of North Africa and the changes they are going through, he represents a pivotal moment in his exploration, pushing the conventional limits of storytelling through sensorial narratives, something he envisions to grow further in his next projects.
Kousmate’s photography has been exhibited widely in various festivals and venues, including Foam Museum in Amsterdam, Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022, Contact photography Festival in Toronto, Jaou Photo in Tunisia,  San José Foto in Uruguay, Addis Foto Fest in Ethiopia. It has also been published in international magazines and newspapers such as The New York Times, Newsweek, The Guardian, Financial Times, Le Monde, and El Pais among others.
A National Geographic Explorer since 2018, He was selected as a 6×6 Global Talent Program by World Press Photo in 2020 and is a Magnum Foundation and Prince Claus’ grantees. He was among the Foam Talents of 2022 and lately has received the “Prix de la photographie” of Musée Quai Branly.

He is currently working on an ongoing exploration of masculinity and patriarchy in North Africa through his personal experience.
He co-founded KOZ collective with photographers M’hammed Kilito, Yasmine Hatimi and Imane Djamil in 2020.