Algerianism Part I – The ‘Art Of’ Being Algerian

Souad Douibi, ‘Howa we Hiya: This is Me, this is my Story in Algerianism for Nour Festival of Arts

Souad Douibi, ‘Howa we Hiya: This is Me, this is my Story, 2015, textile, doll installation. Image courtesy the artist

Algeria is a North African nation situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert. It shares its borders with Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia.  Due to its strategic location between Africa and Europe, the country has been occupied by a seemingly ongoing succession of different rulers, including the Roman, Byzantine, French, Ottoman and Umayyad empires.

Until the 7th century, the country was inhabited primarily by an ethnic group known as the Berbers. Today, Arabs represent the majority of the population, with Berbers still comprising 30% of the country’s population. Algiers is the capital city and the origin behind the country’s name.

Yasser Ameur, ‘We are You’ in Algerianism for Nour Festival of Arts

Yasser Ameur, ‘We are You’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 65 x 50cm
Image courtesy of artist

In the 1950s, natural gas and oil were discovered in the country.  To this day, Algeria continues to export natural gas to Europe and is recognised as one of the world’s largest oil exporters – bringing in a significant amount of income for the national economy.  Another important event began that same decade, with the country seeking independence. Algeria’s relationship with the French came to a boiling point in 1954, with the country gaining independence in 1962.

Amidst this rich cultural tapestry and complex political situation, contemporary Algerian visual and performing arts are blooming.  Through the lens of the past 50 years of independence, Algerian Event Manager Toufik Douib and Algerian born artist Patrick Altes bring “Algerianism Part 1” to the Nour Festival of Arts 2015.

The term “Algerianism” was a literary movement first coined by Algerian and French intellectuals – also known as the Pieds Noirs – in the early 20th century to unite the two disparate groups around a shared ideology. After independence, the term took on a different meaning – namely, one of patriotism and nationalism. In context of the exhibition and through the various lenses of each artist, “Algerianism Part 1” seeks “to bring an engaging vision and powerful message of tribute to a nation that is in full reappropriation of its cultural identity with past associations to exploring new parameters.”

Hania Zaazoua in Algerianism for Nour Festival

Hania Zaazoua, ‘Princess Zazou’: ‘The Fly’ , 2015, digital print on canvas,
Image courtesy of artist

Six visual artists are participating in “Algerianism Part 1”:

  • Patrick Altes (b. 1957, Oran, Algeria) is a French visual artist of Spanish origins who was born in Algeria. His work explores the complex nature between nostalgia, politics and history and he hopes to “contribute to more open, tolerant and accepting Franco-Algerian relationships.”
  • MIZO’ Hamza Ait Mekideche is a visual artist who utilises accessories and symbols to interrogate the use of traditional garments by contemporary Algerian women.
  • Souad Douibi (b. 1982, Hussein Dey District, Algiers, Algeria) is a performing artist who “questions the evolution of Algerian society and issues of generational miscommunication” through her work.
  • Kaci Ould Aissa (b. 1983) is a photographer who works for Algerian fashion magazine Dzeriet. His recent work has captured portraits of the population at the Sahrawi refugee camp in southwestern Algeria.
  • Hania Zaazoua ‘Princess Zazou’ (b. 1976, Algiers, Algeria) is a visual artist whose images can also be found on furnishings and miscellaneous objects. Zaazoua also founded Brokk’art and has collaborated with designers Bergson and Jung.
  • Yasser Ameur (b. 1989, Blida, Algeria) is a visual artist who explores the human condition in contemporary society. Yasser has worked as a street artist which, he says, provides him a place to “raise questions.”

According to Altes, contemporary art from Algeria is becoming an ever more important bridge between Africa, Europe and the MENA region (Middle East North Africa), while remaining true to its diverse, multi-cultural identity:

The Algerian cultural space keeps on opening up to the world in a powerful way. In weaving national and international influences, it succeeds in keeping on a par with the rest of the world as well as maintaining its own idiosyncrasies.

Kaci Ould Aissi, The Housewife in Algerianism for Nour Festival

Kaci Ould Aissi, ‘The Housewife’, 2014, 50mm photography, 47 x 70cm.
Image courtesy the artist

“Algerianism Part 1” runs at The Tabernacle from 26 October until 8 November 2015.

This profile was written by Lisa Pollman, a freelance writer who connects Asian and Middle Eastern artists to the world.

Fragility, Legacy, Diversity: A Showcase of MENA Short Films

Pyramids Hostel Short Film for Nour Shorts at the Nour Festival

Pyramids Hostel, Thierry Lledo (director), 2015

The Nour Short Film Night presented a showcase of young Middle Eastern and North African film talent, offering eight short films screened in the resplendent Leighton House Museum.  A treat for both enthusiasts of Middle Eastern film and those encountering the cinema of the region for the first time, these shorts have all been released in the last two years and are fresh off the festival circuits, with many prizes to their names.

Speaking to the Nour Short Film Night curator, Yasmin El Derby, the desire for inclusivity was raised as a central theme in her selection process.  As El Derby put it, she sought to incorporate “as wide a range as possible of film genres and of countries of origin.”  In this, the Short Film Night was very successful: genres range from documentaries and docu-dramas, a satirical comedy and a horror film, to more experimental art films.  The directors are also equally diverse, hailing from Jordan, Egypt, France, Libya, South Africa, Tunisia, Lebanon and the UK, and many of them representing the Middle Eastern art diaspora.

Facing The Sea Film Poster for Nour Shorts at Nour Festival

Facing The Sea, Sabry Bouzid (director), 2014

Each film deals with an incredibly broad range of issues, but when one looks a little closer one sees that each is in dialogue with another.  For example, My Dreams in Granada (2015) poetically documents the struggle of a Libyan artist working in Granada, Spain, and speaks directly to both Coffee (2014), a simple but powerful artistic short that looks at how belonging to two different cultures influences the visual style and cultural views of a storyteller, and Facing the Sea (2014), about a Tunisian artist who is secretly hiding his sexuality from his sister and worrying about his position in society.  Pyramids Hostel (2015) has issues of conflicting post-revolution sentiments in Egypt lightly woven into its script, while the documentary film The Runner (2014) tackles the issue head on.

For me, the standout film is without doubt Hotel Zaatari (2014), a docu-drama that captures the lives of four Syrian refugees – two adults and two children – living in the Zaatari camp in Jordan.  The deep-voiced, winding narrative that overlays haunting images of everyday life in the camp, sounds almost like poetry and adds to the strong sense of aimlessness in the film.  The main soundtrack to the piece is the whistling desert wind, which only adds to the feeling of desolation and hopelessness visually portrayed – as the film states it is a story “with no beginning and no end”.

Ceci N'est Pas Une Menace at Nour Shorts for Nour Festival

Ceci N’est Pas Une Menace, Charbel Kamel (director), 2015

The run of films is certainly a journey.  In fact it’s almost cyclical, with the first film, A Cold Morning in November (2014), opening with a mournful wake and the last, Ceci n’est pas une menace (This is Not a Threat) (2015), ending with a gun pointed directly at the camera.  Ultimately, through the framework and lens of the Middle Eastern region, all these films deal with issues of life, its fragility, its legacy, and its diversity.

This review was written by Aimee Dawson; a London-based writer and blogger on contemporary art from the Middle East and North Africa.

ARA-B-LESS? : An Interview With Riffy Arts Collective

Meriem Bennani; the New York-based artist who was recently featured in the New York Times is one of the selected artists by Riffy Ahmed and Sarah El Hamed for the ARA-B-LESS? project at the Saatchi Gallery.  Our guest blogger Aimee Dawson speaks with Riffy to learn more about the project.

ARA-B-LESS by Riffy Arts Collective for Nour Festival in London

Project Poster

How did you conceive the title ARA-B-LESS ?

The project title ‘ARA-B-LESS ?’ is a neologism born of a play on the word ‘Arabness’ (Arabism). Two designs hint at the meaning behind “ARA-B-LESS ?” –  the first emphasising ‘BLESS’ suggests that Arab identity is a blessing, while the second emphasises “LESS’, the ways in which what it means to be Arab have evolved over time, perhaps losing something along the way. ‘ARA-B-LESS?’, as a question, also focuses on whether we, the artists, consider ourselves to be more or less Arab for having been born and brought up in the West, albeit by parents from Arab countries.

Can you describe the show a little? What does the performance description mean by three different ‘landscapes’?

The show integrates live performance art with video, sculpture and installation work. Operating in the interstices between reality and fiction and inspired by Grayson Perry’s Map of an Englishman, 2004, ARA-B-LESS? invites the audience to embark on a journey through three conceptually cohesive spaces each posing a unique challenge to current codes of conduct as well as questioning the existence of multifarious stereotypes and framing devices. The result is an extensive yet playful investigation of the ways in which identity is constructed as well as the ways in which it might be deconstructed and reconstructed in the realm of the hyper-real.

ARA-B-LESS by Riffy Arts Collective for Nour Festival in LondonHow do you think Arab women are perceived and represented? Are you looking at it from a ‘Western’ gaze or Middle Eastern/Arab or…?

The short answer is both from a Western and a Middle Eastern/Arab gaze, there is no limit to the ways in which women’s identity might be interrogated in the work of each artist – the whole point is to explore and ask questions. ARA-B-LESS ?, designed in broad terms to explore notions of Arabness and more specifically to explore the representation of women in these different cultures, is an essentially collaborative project. The result is a series of ongoing conversations between artist-curators Riffy Ahmed and Sarah El Hamed. Together, they have selected works by artists who complement, counter, and complicate their thinking about the representation of identity.

ARA-B-LESS by Riffy Arts Collective for Nour Festival in London

How is the work interactive? What can people expect?

There will be three performances (each 10 minutes in length) by Ahmed and El Hamed (visitors will be informed and directed by staff before each is about to start) as well as a durational performance inspired by Hassan Hajjaj’s photographic portraits. The subject of this performance, who will pose throughout the evening in a Hajjaj constructed environment, will also wear clothes designed by the artist.

Visitors to Shadi Al Zaqzouq’s work will also be able to participate by purchasing or simply trying on his eccentric creations – hijabs adorned by colourful variations on the Liberty Spike Mohawk. There will also be live music throughout the evening courtesy of Algerian singer and guitarist, Nedjim Bouizzoul.

The ARA-B-LESS? performance takes place on Wednesday 4 November, 7pm at Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s Square.

To book tickets click here.

Event Review: The Image Is Witness

The Image is Witness for Nour Festival

The Image is Witness © Wafaa Samir

The first biennial of contemporary photography from the Arab region will open in Paris next month, sponsored by the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie.  Gabriel Bauret, the biennial curator, was joined in a panel discussion by Vali Mahlouji, an Iranian London-based curator and critic, and Karin Adrian von Roques, a German curator with international experience in contemporary Arab and Iranian art.

The panel explored their individual awakenings to the development of a vibrant art scene in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region, and the issues they believe to have stunted the international appreciation of these artists, perhaps most interestingly, the influence of the market in defining trends.  Distinctions were drawn (but unfortunately not fully examined) between Arab and Iranian artistic output, and many questions asked about the boundaries within which ‘Arab’ can be considered a fulfilling definition for art emerging from the region.  We find these questions repeatedly posed about how to group artists working within and beyond this vast territory, often to satisfy a naïve Western gaze, and this panel was an important fixture in the Nour Festival calendar to further unpick the issues with this classification.

Vali Mahlouji was the highlight of the discussion, giving an engaging presentation on his Archaeology of the Final Decade project, a multidisciplinary endeavour that sits on the line of curation and archive to upend the notion of the photographic image as a reliable ‘witness’.  Using the photographs of Kaveh Golestan’s ‘Prostitute’ series as a case study upon which to open an examination of how the historical, socio-political and even architectural narratives of a city – in this case, Tehran – and its population can be redrawn and re-politicised.

The Image Is Witness serves to bring to international attention the current surge of interest in this field of contemporary art, and we encourage any visitors to Paris in November to make a visit to the biennial itself.

This review was written by Siobhán Forshaw; the curator of a collection of Islamic and Modern Arab art based in London. She writes independently on art and culture, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa region.