This exhibition was imagined as a visual diary that pays tribute to some of the artists, initiatives or collaborations I have worked or connected with since the ‘Covid Era’.
While each of the selected photo/ digital work highlights crucial moments that inspired or affected me, both on a personal level and as a curator, this collective show reflects on the act of creative resistance that many art practitioners addressed to tackle the current global issue. Ultimately 'Exist, Resist, Repeat'
aspires to bring a nuanced vision to the quest for art in resistance, celebrated through this first in-person exhibition made possible in 2 years!
Ahmet Talha Gürol (Turkey): I met Ahmed a year ago, during my initial trip to Turkey, when travelling became allowed for the first time during the pandemic. Based in Bursa – known as the ‘green city’, I instantly connected with his great sensitivity, love for nature and ideals for a better world, placing art at its core. We soon discussed to set sail on collaboration, however, Ahmed sadly passed away a few weeks ago. This exhibition is dedicated to him.
Statement and work courtesy of Iklur, the artist’s partner: “My tale began in a small village in Anatolia. Precisely when I was enchanted by painting, is beyond the scope of my memory.
Whenever I was in low spirits, charged or overflowing with emotion, I would seek the company of colours. Before long I came to create art, with any material available to me, at times I was happy, hopeful and excited, too, so that drawing became a form of self expression, inner reasoning, life itself.
The moulding process of my world view entailed undergraduate education in Sociology, Economics and Philosophy and independent studies. Always a student of life and art alike, I preferred the liberty granted by auto-didacticism over academicism. I am sparked to paint with the sentiment that the display of my personal critique of the mechanisms of the world is able to soothe me.
The aspiration is to entice souls as well as create discomfort. Once the disturbance upon us all is well-fed and watered, I delight in internal discourse or enjoy myself setting up visual and conceptual playgrounds that are dynamic and actualize through interaction. Through forms with indefinite boundaries, I hope to stimulate unique and self-ruling experiences in vision, sense and emotion.
Defining art causes a dilemma by division. The praise of its boundlessness is likewise limiting.
Art is a floating plastic bag you stumble upon, just as a smile upon a face or an idea can be. Therefore, instead of solidifying in a singular method and style, my journey unfolds itself through the flow of various visual languages as well as continuous quests embarked on with the morals of duty as well as the flow of various visual languages, which at times are in coexistence with the culture I inhabit. This mainly occurs through traditional or local ornaments and motives, which give me comfort through their familiarity.
The dialects are in motion just as the vigour and variety of our being and each hold their own manner, techniques and spirit. The variety that thus arises makes me feel more alive and allows me to exist within life’s diversity.”
About the artwork: Welcome to the wonderland of existence. Welcome to the myth of being. Welcome to the incomparable fairytale of life. Apples, snakes, love, intrigue and many more in tales about our being. Let’s get lost in the myths of the antique together to never find our way out again.
El3o (Algeria): Omar ‘El3o’ Siakhene features unique takes on Algerian song classics specifically vignetting the originals in a trip-hop framework. He includes poetry and political speeches into his remixed tapes and regularly composes for the Algerian indie film industry.
‘Salam’ was commissioned for Shubbak, the UK’s largest MENA contemporary art festival (June 2021), known for gathering eclectic live events across London. Due to Covid, this year's festival edition went mainly online. Whilst El3o's production met a series of issues, from Internet cuts and restrictions to access a recording venue; the perspective to present this performance in space audience brings a bolder statement to his work.
Marouane Joubba (Morocco-Spain): Marouane was the only London-based artist that I managed to meet during Covid, in summer 2020. At that time, the artist was waiting due to return to Spain, but the pandemic situation changed his plans. He now lives permanently in the UK.
The “error” self-portrait came initially from a wrong manipulation of ink on the scraperboard during lockdown. The artist decided to capture his frustration and rework the result. While quoting his favourite poem from Darwish: “I am from There, I am from Here, But I am not from There, I am not from Here” this installation reflects the artist’s
recurring dilemma of cultural coexistence and inspirations nurtured by current issues of his society, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Gil Moualem Doron (UK-Israel): I connected with Gil a few years ago through the Palestinian gallery P21 in London. The Arab-Israeli artist was then looking for a curator to showcase a retrospective project in their space. Due to some logistic complications that led to postponing the project a few times (funds, censorship and then Covid etc.), we managed a couple of other collaborations in 2018 and 2020.
“The New Union Mask is another chapter in the project ‘New Union Flag’ [NUF] that began in 2015 in the wake of the rise of support for the Brexit party UKIP.
The project re-imagines the British flag and celebrates the communities that have contributed to the UK’s cultural legacy. Re-created with fabric designs from all over the world, the New Union Flag transforms the traditional archetype of uniformity into a dynamic celebration of diversity. Whilst this flag started as a reflection on the UK’s colonial legacy, its design is ever-changing to reflect the ongoing changes of the makeup of this nation.
If the project has been highly successful in the UK, being exhibited nationwide, it also attracted a lot of negative and racist comments online, including death threats and an online neo-nazi attack during a zoom event.
The New Union Mask was created during the Covid19 pandemic to acknowledge and celebrate the British National Health Service (NHS)’s workers, many of whom are migrants and/or from ethnic minorities. As these workers were celebrated by the media and politicians, from the many comments I received following my post on social media - it seems not everyone agrees to the necessity of such recognition. Racism is by far more contentious, long-lasting and deadly than Covid19. It is killing thousands of black and brown people in Asia and Africa who are denied vaccination.”
The mask is available for purchase online. The profits will be paid to the COVAX programme that enables people in 92 lower-income economies to access safe and effective donor-funded COVID-19 vaccines.
Yazan Aboushi (Palestinen-U.S.): Yazan began his career in photography when he realized that he could use the medium to tell the story of his people and bridge the gap between his east and west identities. I have been virtually connected with Yazan since 2019, but our paths crossed this year when I discovered the social media coverage he made from a night of protests I had attended in Istanbul. Although we still have not yet managed to meet, as Yazan moved to Washington last month, this triptych series highlights a powerful moment of unity we shared.
“The events that happened (and continue to happen) in May of 2021 sparked mass protests all around the world. At the time I was living in Istanbul and although in Turkey we were under a strict lockdown due to Covid-19, people showed up in front of the occupation consulate in the thousands, every day, for multiple days. What made this event special is the overwhelming solidarity that was felt throughout: the protests consisted of people from all over, people gathering to pray for justice, friends reuniting after months of isolation, making the Palestinians minority their majority. We were all angry, tired, frustrated, and having been in lockdown for months we were happy to be feeling these emotions together. We were hurting together in a beautiful exercise of solidarity. The most commented photo I captured was this image of Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian youth holding their flags draped around their shoulders like superheroes. If it was one thing I learned from watching and being part of these events it's that the injustice faced in Palestine is felt everywhere - and that the Palestinian cause is a global one."
Venetia Menzies (Scotland): I met with Venetia a couple of years ago during an Algerian event in London. Initially, I planned to present the 21st Bedouin series in Algeria, however, due to the current travel restrictions the project has been put on hold. Today, this works resonates stronger than ever with all the Algerians unable to return home and everyone else in the world restricted to their rights of movement.
The photojournalist Venetia Menzies traces the history of migration in Algeria through the lens of a single family’s experience. Beginning in the 1890s with “the story of the 21st Century Bedouin’s” grandmother, we find each generation shares the experience of migration in some form. In a present time where the mass-movement of people is such a pressing and polarising issue, 21st-Century Bedouin seeks to remind us of the migration’s legacy in its perpetual history, its presence everywhere in nature, and its necessity for survival across human history.
Tilawin Project (Algeria): Tilawin (which means women in Amazigh language) is one of the most ambitious projects that emerged during the lockdown period. Founded by Yasmine Fodil, this all-female mentoring platform is dedicated to showcasing photography initiatives and talents across the country. By teaming professional- established photographers with amateur-graduate artists, the project aims to build a common space that contributes to the growth of the women photographers’ scene in Algeria and its Diaspora. Brief about the seven artists-mentees for the project’s pilot:
Salma Salhi (Algiers)
Salma has been passionate about photography from a young age. It was until during lockdown last year that she took her introductory photography workshop. Red Shoes is part of a storytelling series where the artist narrates her frustration with those everyday objects one had bought before Covid and never used since, offering a poetic perspective to ‘waiting and transition’.
Yasmine Ouali (Algiers)
Graduate from the Fine Arts School of Algiers, Yasmine currently works in a ceramic studio while developing a more critical eye on my photographic projects. In 2019, she participated in the Artifariti artistic residency in the refugees’ camp of Western Sahara, allowing her to focus on documentary photography, specifically themes of humanitarian journeys.
Yasmine Belkaid (Oran)
After discovering the infamous ‘Madonna of Bentalha’ 90s photography, Yasmine understood the power of capturing critical live events. The unprecedented presence of women during the Hirak demonstrations inspired her to join the Tilawin project as a statement to reclaim their presence in Algeria’s creative and engaged sphere.
Loubna Sephora Boghari (Algiers-London)
Drawn to cinema from a young age, Loubna began to have a closer interest in photography when she joined a creative club at university. Currently based in the UK, the artist aspires to use the medium to connect different angles of story and cultures.
Hiba Zouane (Algiers)
Her passion for photography could not materialize until she acquired her first camera. Subsequently, as a trained autodidact, she made her first photo series 'Allegory of Eve'. Hiba is currently working on a series that documents the life of her relatives who experience loneliness.
Ikram Bouslim (Laghouat)
In her work, Ikram conveys stories of heritage and traditions; inspired by the scenic landscapes of her hometown. “9 miles” is part of series that explores how the population in remote regions engaged with life during Covid, depicting a child returning from the only school open in the neighbourhood, 9 miles away from home.
Wafaa Soltane (Oran)
Wafaa volunteers for several local charities that helped her to develop social contacts and understand new perspectives of her complex city; namely linked to poverty and resilience. Through her passion for photography, she captures those critical moments of urban life. She is working on an ongoing project about 'slums in Oran'.
Toufik Douib is an independent curator and event director. His multidisciplinary practice focuses on the question of Algerian-Maghrebi identities through the lens of its eclectic contemporary art scene.
From 2012 and until 2014, he was the artistic director for the “London Algerian Ballet”, a community-led theatrical show, and then it was in 2015 that he curated his first exhibition ‘Algerianism’. In 2017-18, Toufik had three distinct collaborations with the P21 Gallery: solo exhibition ‘Dhikr Pictural’, the series of short movie screening ‘Told Stories’ and critically acclaimed visual group show ‘Pop Art from North Africa’, which has since also been presented in Spain (2019-2020) Casa Árabe.
Toufik had two collaborations with Shubbak Festival, UK’s largest festival dedicated to MENA culture. In 2019 he presented ‘Belonging Sideways’, a multimedia exhibition on the theme of territory and identity, then this year through ‘Soundclash’ sound and visual performance.
His other cultural ventures include the research project “Generation Independence” for Portsmouth University and coordination of ‘DIGI-MENA’ online mapping research platform for Arab digital artists, for which he has been awarded the AFAC (Arab Fund for Art and Culture) grant in the category Trainings and Regional Events.