Contemporary artists residing in Algeria and abroad look beyond its colonial past to uncover new ground.
Algeria’s long history of colonialism and conquest provides complex narratives and fertile ground for contemporary artists who push the boundaries between tradition and modernity, utilising rich media, techniques and performances.
Algeria is a North African nation situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert. Due to its geographic location between Europe and Africa, its history has witnessed a succession of various rulers. Prior to the country gaining independence in 1962, it was ruled by the French. This dynamic mixing of cultures and peoples has left an indelible mark on Algeria and its visual artists.
Art Radar profiles 16 of these creative minds, hand-picked by artist Zineb Sedira and art consultant Janet Rady. The following 16 figures represent the best contemporary artists of Algerian ethnicity, individuals born in the north African country of European ancestry and those living within the Algerian diaspora.
2. Kader Attia
Kader Attia (b. 1970) grew up in Algeria and Paris. His experience of residing between two different cultures, has provided his artwork with a “dynamic practice that reflects on the aesthetics and ethics of different cultures”. His work often delves into the aspect of “repair” and takes an unflinching look at the stark results of colonialism and globalisation. “Arab Spring”, Attia’s performance piece, references the looting of Egyptian antiquities during the country’s political unrest, with the hoodie-clad artist smashing vitrines.
Attia’s work has been widely exhibited internationally, including offerings at dOCUMENTA (13), MoMA in New York City and Tate Modern (London). The artist has been awarded several prizes including the Northwestern University Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Artist Residency Award (2015), the Abraaj Group Art Prize, Dubai (2010) and the Cairo Biennale, Prize of Biennale, Cairo (2008). He currently spends time between Algiers and Berlin.
4. Hanan Benammar
Oslo-based Hanan Benammar (b. 1989) is a performance artist who has studied in Paris, Oslo and at the Dutch Art Institute. Her work has been exhibited at Gallery BOA (Oslo), London’s Mosaic Rooms and was a part of the Land Art Mongolia’s (LAM) “Animal Sound Lab” at the 56th Venice Biennale.
Benammar’s work is highly conceptual in nature. Benammar’s “One way to the desert” performative piece invited two contestants to ruminate on Nietzche’s text The Wanderer and His Shadow in a bid to receive separate one way trips into the Sahara desert, in order to “develop a narrative through the strength and performativity of traveling”.
5. Abdelkader Benchamma
Abdelkader Benchamma (b. 1975 ) was born in France to Algerian parents. Benchamma successfully graduated from the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris in 2003. His work has been exhibited throughout the world, including the Louis Vuitton Foundation and the 54th Venice Biennale and is part of the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art (Qatar) and Barjeel Art Foundation‘s (UAE) permanent collections.The artist lives in France.
Benchamma’s bold and dynamic work employs printing, engraving, landscape and scientific drawing techniques, touching on aspects found in cosmology, science fiction literature, existentialist theatre and literature to “explore the constructed aspect of reality”.
Zoulikha Bouabdellah (1977) was born in Moscow and raised in Algiers until 1993, when her family left Algeria due to the country’s civil war and settled in France. Bouabdellah is the daughter of film director and Algerian writer Hassan Bouabdellah and Malika Dorbani, former head of the Algiers Fine Art Museum. Zoulikha holds a degree in Visual Arts and an MA in Visual Expression from France’s Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Arts de Cergy. Her work has been included in solo and group exhibitions, video festivals and biennales worldwide and is part of the Deutsche Bank, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art and Barjeel Art Foundation collections.
Zoulikha’s photographs, installations and videos transcend cultural identities, borders and genders, with a mixture of humour, rebellion and disobedience, challenging authoritarianism and seek to “push forward boundaries”. The artist has participated in residencies in Ramallah at the Art School Palestine and Amherst College, in the United States.
9. Amina Menia
Amina Menia (b. 1976) graduated from the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts of Algiers. Her work has been exhibited internationally and shown at Art Dubai (2014), DAK’Art Biennale (2014), The New Museum (2014) and the Sharjah Biennial 11 (2013). She was awarded a commission for the Memorial of the National Museum of Civil Protection, Algiers and her work is part of the Sharjah Art Foundation collection.
Menia’s work seeks to question and understand the connection between architectural and historic spaces through audience “interaction” and is a hybrid of sculpture and installation. According to an article found on the Nafas website, the artist implores the audience to re-evaluate and deconstruct Algeria’s heritage through site-specific work:
Menia has a profound and all-signifying hatred of the word ‘interdit’ – the French word meaning ‘forbidden’ which she claims is rampant in her home town of Algiers (her main terrain of action to date). Her practice could be qualified as soft militancy as she systematically critiques lack of freedom and ideological impositions in the public sphere.
10. Houria Niati
Houria Niati (b. 1948) is a visual and performance artist who successfully earned her Diploma in Fine Art from the Croydon College of Art and an MFA from Middlesex University. Residing in London since 1977, Niati often accompanies her exhibitions with Arab-Andalusian songs from 9th century Spain and video clips and digital arts.
As a small child, Niati witnessed firsthand the war for Algeria’s independence against the French. Her multimedia installations and paintings seek to bring together her experiences living between “Eastern and Western identities” and provide a blueprint for a better world and interconnected humanity.
11. Yazid Oulab
Yazid Oulab (b. 1958) is a multimedia artist who received degrees in Fine Arts from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Algiers and Ecole de Marseille Lumigny (DNSEP) Marseille, France. His work has been exhibited widely in France and is included in collections of the Centre Pompidou (France), City of Marseilles, Musée National d’Art Moderne (France) and Fondation Musée d’Art Moderne Grand Duc Jean (Luxembourg).
Oulab seeks to find meaning in his sculptures, videos, installations and drawings, with the use of common, everyday objects. Yet these objects, as Nadour’s website explains, still hold a sense of vital significance:
The artist’s work bridges the gap between feeling and symbolism, symbol and text, craft and ritual, it accompanies a move towards spiritual knowledge, going beyond surface appearance.
12. Lydia Ourahmane
Lydia Ourahmane (b. 1992) successfully earned her Foundation Diploma from London’s Camberwell College of Arts (2011) and her BFA from Goldsmiths University, London (2014). A multimedia artist, Ourahmane’s work has been exhibited throughout Europe, South Africa and Algeria. She will participate in the AiR Residency and Art Dubai Projects at this year’s Art Dubai. Ourahmane spends time in Algeria and London.
Ourahmane works with a wide range of artistic disciplines, including new media, video, performance pieces, sculpture and found objects. Her work often addresses the challenges found within those “internal and external forces that govern one’s existence”. In “The Third Choir” installation, she references her own personal experience with Algeria’s arduous bureaucratic process when she successfully lobbied to import 20 oil barrels into the United Kingdom.
13. Sadek Rahim
Sadek Rahim (b. 1971 ) combines photographs, installation, technology and design into his work. He graduated from Beirut’s Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts with a BA and went on to earn his MA in Visual Arts from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London. Rahim is Co-founder of the Contemporary Art Biennale and the First Salon for Contemporary Drawings in Oran, Algeria, in collaboration with CIV-oeil. His work has been exhibited throughout the world, including shows at the Ecolsion Gallery (Algeria), the Alserkal Foundation (UAE), Seoul’s Busan Museum of Art and London’s Mosaic Rooms, the Oxford House and the Brick Lane Gallery. Rahim is based in Algeria.
Rahim’s work, through a combination of photography/installation and technology/design, takes an intimate look at the human condition that often includes an “emotional effect” and blurs the lines between public and private. In particular, his recent work has highlighted the plight of illegal immigrants.
14. Zineb Sedira
Based in London, Zineb Sedira (b. 1963) received a BA (hons) in Critical Fine Art Practice from the Central Saint Martins School of Art (London), an MFA in Media from the Slade School of Art (London) and research studies in the Photography Department from the Royal School of Art (London). Sedira has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including shows at The Third Line (Dubai), Taymour Grahne (New York City) and the Beirut Art Center (Lebanon). Her work is found in public collections worldwide, including Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne (Paris), Deutsche Bank Collection (Frankfurt) and Victoria and Albert Museum, Contemporary Wall Paper Collections (London).
Sedira works with a wide variety of media, including installation, photography, film, video and object-making. Of particular interest has been the tension between the past and the present, with emphasis on the anxiety of the present. Recently, the universal ideas behind mobility, memory and transmission have taken centre stage in her work. In the artist’s “Sugar Routes” series, images of sugar “dunes” held in a French warehouse depict an anonymous, fully globalised commodity, as was reported in Art Asia Pacific:
In Sugar Routes (1) and Sugar Routes (2) (both 2013) the sweet substance flows like sand, millions of morsels from far corners of the world mixing together, leaving no trace of regional uniqueness. Heavy vehicle tire tracks on the floor remind viewers of the mass production of this commodity and the associated industrialization.
15. Massinissa Selmani
France-based Massinissa Selmani (b.1980) successfully earned both and an MA Degree in Visual Arts from the Ecole supérieure des beaux-arts de Tours (France). His work has been exhibited throughout the world, including the 13th Lyon Biennale (France), the Singapore Art Fair and the 56th Venice Biennale, where the artist received a Special Mention.
Selmani’s drawings reveal a stark contemporary narrative, taken from the current political and social milieu, with traces of humour, irony and rebellion. The artist often employs a contradictory grouping of images, highlighting the barrage of images overwhelming modern-day society.
16. Oussama Tabti
Oussama Tabti (b. 1988) graduated from the Fine Arts School of Algiers (Algeria) in Graphic Design and is currently attending the Visual Art School of Aix-en-Provence (France). His work has been exhibited in Algeria, North Africa and Europe, and is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona‘s (MACBA) collection. The artist was awarded funding from the Prince Claus Fund in 2013.
Tabti’s multimedia work includes video installations, found objects and drawings, referencing the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial narratives in Algeria. Of particular interest is Tabti’s examination of those aspects or events that are omitted due to catastrophic events or the rewriting of history by authorities.
- Fragility and the machine: Morocco’s Mounir Fatmi – artist profile – November 2015 – complexities of modern-day life through videos, installations, drawings, paintings and sculptures seek to deconstruct dogmas and ideologies and shatter preconceptions
- Lalla Essaydi: ‘Crossing Boundaries, Bridging Cultures’ – book review – July 2015 – internationally recognised artist uses family compound and lush fabrics to take a closer look at “anthropological conditioning”
- Karima: A Day in the Life of a Henna Girl – interview with Hassan Hajjaj – July 2015 – Hip hop protagonist populates landscape of Moroccan photographer’s films and images
- “Let’s play”: Egyptian artist Nermine Hammam on the credibility of images – interview – March 2015 – artist takes on the many “micro-violations of truth” and the slippery slope of myths and fantasies
- French-Tunisian graffiti artist eL Seed on his Arabic roots, “Lost Walls” and reclaiming purple – interview – June 2014 – ‘Calligraffiti’ innovator talks about his recent book and how he is using his craft to bring attention to his homeland
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