Kader Attia (b. 1970) has been considered one of the most influential artists of his generation ever since his startling presentation at the last documenta, if not before. The MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main
is now devoting a comprehensive solo exhibition to Attia, who grew up in Algeria and Paris. His experiences of two very different cultural milieux form the basis for his artistic practice. In the exhibition at the MMK, Attia undertakes an impressive and moving investigation of the far-reaching impact of Western cultural hegemony on non-Western cultures against the background of our globalized present, explains Susanne Gaensheimer, the director of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst.
In works as aesthetically impressive as they are ethically ambitious, Attia concerns himself with the concept of repair, which he has been exploring for many years. He first presented it in its full magnitude in his brilliant installation at the documenta 13 (2012) entitled Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures. The artist distinguishes between two approaches to repair: the patched artefacts of ethnological collections openly show their seams and clamps and thus the history of the object. This ostentatious, traditional form of repair does not conceal but rather reveals the different stages of development inherent to the object, and thus the ideologies of the past and present. The Western conception of repair, on the other hand, pursues an ideal of perfection by striving for the flawless re-creation of the original state. In the consumer society cycle, defective objects are disposed of and replaced by new ones. The repair itself remains invisible, amounting to an obliteration of history.
Attia applies these two concepts to widely differing fields of knowledge and technologies and denies them unilateral cultural classification by pointing out comparable phenomena in various cultural spheres. His interest here is not with a reconciliation of cultural differences but with the keener perception of pluralities. In his artistic investigations he combines phenomena of different eras and cultures in a broad panorama that enables him to illuminate and interpret our present in a new way, observes the exhibition curator Klaus Görner. Within the framework of his ongoing examination of the notion of repair, he creates works that lend powerful pictorial expression and complex form to current conflicts.
For the exhibition Sacrifice and Harmony at the MMK 1, Kader Attia has developed a new group of works that further develop his concept of reappropriation and repair. In the process, he also directs his attention to religiously and politically motivated sacrificial rituals. Sacrifices were originally intended as a means of harmonizing orders; in globalized societies, Kader Attia understands them as a political instrument of fear used to destroy peaceful coexistence and social harmony.
For the MMK, Attia has developed a series of works that form a route through the exhibition. The visitor will make his way through spaces that offer the experience of interplays between confinement and expanse, severity and poetry, historical and present conflicts.
The exhibition begins in the central hall of the museum with the large-scale work Los de arriba y los de abajo (2015). Consisting of wood, metal and plastic refuse, the installation mirrors the situation in the old town of Hebron in the West Bank. The Palestinians there use wire mesh to protect themselves from the garbage thrown on the street by Jewish settlers living on the upper floors of the buildings. In addition to this specific reference, the work is to be understood as a metaphor for the division of society in cases of continued and hardened conflict.
Another key work in the exhibition is Reasons Oxymoron (2015), a collection of interviews the artist conducted with philosophers, ethnologists, musicologists, psychiatrists and healers. They talk about such topics as genocide, totem and fetish, reason and politics or trance. The six videos shown here explore differing conceptions of psychopathology in traditional non-Western cultures on the one hand and modern Western societies on the other. The work revolves around the idea of repair, but also around the ambiguity of the notion of psyche in the two cultural spheres.
In the large installation J'Accuse (2016), Attia assembles monumental wooden busts which he creates with local woodcarvers in Senegal. Photos of World War I soldiers who suffered severe facial injuries, the so-called "gueules cassées", serve them as models. One part of the installation is a brief excerpt from a feature film directed by Abel Gance in 1938. In a dramatic scene, World War I invalids are called upon in view of the new threat of war to show their destroyed faces and thus to take a stance against oblivion.
Attias art symbolically spells out the repressed wounds of a society. For the artist, the presentation of his works in a museum represents a decisive step in the development of his uvre as an instrument for dissolving stereotypes and thought patterns.