Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 4th December 2015

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London exhibit explores Algerian identity

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

Yasser Ameur

Sailing Algeria mixed media abstract art by Yasser Ameur

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.