Internationally-acclaimed French-Algerian artist Kader Attia, known for provocative exhibitions exploring colonial legacies, unveiled a solo exhibition of new work commissioned by Northwestern Universitys Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art
Kader Attia: Reflecting Memory runs Jan. 21 to April 16, 2017, at the Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive, on the Evanston campus.
Attia is internationally recognized for a rigorous, research-based practice that he translates through a variety of media including photography, sculpture, installation and video. His work frequently reflects on the wide-ranging effects of colonialism, the repercussions of Western power on non-Western cultures and the physical and psychological impact of trauma and its aftermath, which Attia examines as a kind of repair.
Based in part on the artists research in the collections of Northwestern Universitys Herskovits Library of African Studies and interviews with University faculty across disciplines, Attias Block installation features collage, sculpture and an extended film-essay that premiered at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in October 2016.
Featuring new work commissioned by the Block, Kader Attia: Reflecting Memory is Attias first solo presentation of work in Chicago or the Midwest. The artists 2017 schedule also includes exhibition stops at the Sarjah Biennial in Dakar, Lehmann Maupin in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
We have been honored to host Attia here at Northwestern University as he has created his new work. He has drawn extensively on the Universitys brain trust its faculty, its students, the Block team and the world-renowned Herskovits Library, said Lisa Corrin, the Museums Ellen Philips Katz Director. His research has uncovered unexpected connections, enabling us to consider traumas of the past that remain urgently relevant.
Kader Attia grew up moving between Algeria and the suburbs of Paris and used this experience of living within two cultures to develop a dynamic practice that confronts identity and cultural difference. His debut solo exhibition was held in 1996 in the Republic of Congo. Since then, his artistic career has gained major international recognition with inclusion in exhibitions such as the 50th Venice Biennale (2003), dOCUMENTA13 (2012), the 8th Lyon Biennial (2015), the 5th Marrakech Biennial (2016) and Dak'Art (2016).
Attias work has been included in recent exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern and the Guggenheim Museum. In 2016, he was awarded the Marcel Duchamp Prize, one of Frances most prestigious arts awards. His solo exhibition, Sacrifice and Harmony, at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, was named German exhibition of the year by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).
The artist is known for provocative, philosophical works such as the 2009 piece Untitled (Ghardaïa), a replica of an Algerian city made out of couscous, which was shown in 2016 at the Guggenheim Museum of Art, and the monumental The Repair From Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures (2012), which features rows of steel shelving and display cases bearing sculpture, photography, African art and WWI trench art, exhibited at Documenta in Kassel, Germany.
Attias longstanding analysis of the themes of psychological and corporeal repair is essential to his practice. From culture to nature, from gender to architecture, from science to philosophy any system of life is an infinite process of repair, the artist said, describing his art.
In his Block Museum installation, Attia expands on his long-term exploration of repair, both of the body and of society, and probes the legacies of colonialism, slavery and xenophobia. Among its themes, the installation considers the phantom limb phenomenon, in which an amputee feels as if pain is emanating from a missing limb. In varying ways, the works draw parallels between this neurological sensation and traumatic historical memories that are passed on from generation to generation. Among the works on display is the extended film-essay Réfléchir la Mémoire, (Reflecting on Memory), which was informed in part by Attias research at Northwestern and which recently premiered at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris as part of the Marcel DuChamp Prix exhibition.
The Block has embraced the opportunity to work with Attia throughout his process of research, knowledge production and execution, and is pleased to present this U.S. premiere of new work that extends his ongoing explorations, Block Curator Janet Dees said.
A perfect match for Northwestern
Attias engagement with the Block Museum of Art originated with the work of Antawan I. Byrd, art history Ph.D. candidate and associate curator of the 2015 Bamako photography biennial, who served as the Block Museum curatorial graduate fellow in 2015/16. Recognizing Byrds expertise in contemporary art, particularly in Africa, Block Museum Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs Kathleen Bickford Berzock challenged him to research the extraordinary photography collections in the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies in order to identify an artist who might engage the material and the collection more broadly.
Ive always been drawn to the way Attias artwork occasions a re-examining of history, said Byrd. Attia struck me as someone who could use the language of contemporary art to imaginatively probe objects in the collection and uncover the layers of history they sustain.
The Block Museum curatorial team of Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Antawan I. Byrd and Janet Dees brought complementary art historical perspectives to the project, connecting Kader to the team at Northwestern University library and to faculty across a broad spectrum in order realize this complex collaboration.
Attia was a perfect match and was game to partner with us, Berzock noted. An artist whose work exposes and questions the very nature of archives and the creation of knowledge, as well as the legacies of colonialism in Africa, would be working in a world-renowned library of African Studies on the campus of a research university.
Attias Block Museum installation evolved out of a series of research visits to the Herskovits Library, where Esmeralda Kale, the librarys George and Mary LeCron Foster Curator, and other staff connected him to the librarys rare holdings. During additional research trips, the artists scope expanded to the broader library collection and to conversation with faculty across disciplines. Instrumental to Attias research were visits to the Northwestern Rehabilitation Institute to hear of innovative work underway with prosthetics, as well as exchanges with Todd Kuiken, Center for Bionic Medicine; John Spanias, department of biomedical engineering and surgery; Caroline Bledsoe, department of anthropology; Peter Locke, Global Health Studies; Huey Copeland, department of art history; Harvey Young, department of theater; and David McClean and Yevegenia Kozorovitsky, department of neurobiology. The artists journey led him through topics as varied as traditional and modernist architecture, water, psychopathology and prosthetics and culminated in taped conversations with several Northwestern faculty.
Kader Attia: Reflecting Memory highlights the Block Museums dedication to presenting global perspectives and capitalizes on Northwesterns long-standing investment in African and African Diaspora studies through the unparalleled resources of the Herskovits Library. The exhibition also continues the museums commitment to commissioning new work by connecting artists to the wealth of Northwesterns multidisciplinary resources and research strengths.
We are committed to offering opportunities for artists to experiment, to intervene in the museums spaces and to mine the resources of a major research university as inspiration for their work, Corrin said. We believe that the artists voice should be central to the life of a university and that the Block has an important role to play in ensuring that students and members of the broader community we serve have contact with the creative process as an essential part of their Block experience.