London exhibit explores Algerian identity

What does it mean to be Algerian? Answer is con­veyed through works of seven con­temporary Algerian artists, using many lenses of country’s modern art scene.

Sailing Algeria mixed media abstract art by Yasser Ameur

2015/12/04 Issue: 34 Page: 23

The Arab Weekly
Karen Dabrowska

London - What does it mean to be Algerian? The answer was con­veyed to visitors of the West London exhibition Algerianism (part 1), through the works of seven con­temporary Algerian artists, using the many lenses of the country’s modern art scene.

It is a vibrant, colourful, thought-provoking display in which some of the artists draw on experiences of the colonial era while others produce abstract works.

“I am pleased we could bring contemporary Algerian art to a British, non-Algerian audience. The artists have never exhibited in the UK before and the audience here is totally new for them,” cura­tor Toufik Douib said.

“Each art work has a character who addresses the issue of iden­tity. We see the complexity of con­temporary Algerian art through the artists’ choice of different me­diums, including acrylic, photog­raphy, textiles and prints.”

Douib and artist Patrick Altes spent more than two years setting up the exhibition, since the idea came up on the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence in 2012.

Since April, they have been working with the organisers of this year’s Nour Festival of Arts which, through the sponsorship of the West London Borough of Kens­ington and Chelsea, brought the art work to London, shedding a light — “nour” translates as “light” — on contemporary arts and culture from the Middle East and North Africa.

Visual artist Hamza Ait Me­kideche featured photographs of women wearing the traditional white Algerian veil on which symbols of glo­balisation were superimposed to show that the Al­gerian people were losing their identity.

“We need to be open to the world but at the same time we need to keep our identity. Somebody who is not aware of his own tradition and does not know where he belongs, cannot face the future,” Mekideche said.

“I am here to celebrate differ­ences and raise awareness… to say that we can be global and can be universal and at the same time we can keep our identity.”

Algeria’s colonial past was highlighted in Al­tes’s work, created by fusing old photographs sourced from family ar­chives of French settlers and Algerians together with his own con­temporary images, sketches, objects, drawings and text.

The Algeria-born French artist was said he was touched by peo­ple’s willingness to give him access to private photos. “Their selection [of the photos], hand­ing them to me and giving me per­mission to use them is in fact a dynamic ex­change where they share their personal history to an artistic exploration which encompasses past, present and future,” Altes said.

Altes explained that his work “is a personal attempt” to shift per­ceptions and engage in an open-minded and creative dialogue to acknowledge the wounds of the past and the effects of the Algerian revolution and the new relation­ship that is emerging after more than 130 years of strained cohabi­tation with the French. He wants this work to contribute in its own way to a fresh and long overdue political narrative between France and Algeria.

In her abstract, digital mixed media prints on canvas Ghania Zaazoua (aka “Princess Zazou”) brings an explosion of colours, pat­terns and all sorts of infinite ideas to her large collages.

The Fly is a glimpse of the idea that “all that glisters is not gold” and even in a fairy dream world not everything is perfect. She is inviting visitors to walk into a teas­ing, almost trivial, dream world to explore an alternative and unseen version of society.

For his part, Yasser Ameur, an­other mixed media abstract artist, leaves his works open to a variety of interpretations. Sailing Algeria may be asking where the country is going or it could symbolise a journey to make dreams on a dis­tant horizon come true. It could also be a reference to the refugee crisis that is engulfing the Mediter­ranean countries at present.

Souad Douibi’s textile dolls in­stallation carries a profound mes­sage about life perceptions. “We are all sorts of dolls on Earth. We dwell in this world with the aim of preserving a trace for future gen­erations.

Often we would like to be a role model for our descendants but many of us fail,” Douibi said.

She describes the Howa ou Hiya (Him and Her) doll as a representa­tion of the dilemma of cultural leg­acy. The work questions the evolu­tion of Algerian society and issues of generation miscommunication and draws attention to the coun­try’s endeavour to preserve both its Arabic language and Amazigh, the dialect spoken by the Kabyle and Berber populations.

Karen Dabrowska is an Arab Weekly contributor in London.

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