This will be the New York debut of Attia’s multimedia video installation, Reason’s Oxymorons (2015), which premiered at the 13th Biennale de Lyon in 2015. Reason’s Oxymorons is a video library comprised of 18 interviews presented within a modular cubicle environment. The interviews feature European and African ethnographers, psychiatric and philosophical practitioners, and theorists discussing topics grouped under titles including “Genocide,” “Totem and Fetish,” “Reason and Politics,” and “Trance.”
Attia is recognized for his rigorous research-based practice that he translates through a wide variety of media including photography, sculpture, installation, and video. His work examines the wide-ranging effects of colonialism and the repercussions of Western hegemony on non-Western cultures. Attia grew up in both Paris and Algeria in the decade following the dissolution of French Algeria in 1962. His experience of living within two different cultures has deeply influenced his oeuvre and his commitment to the investigation of historical narratives, the development of culture, and the construction of communal and individual identity in the post-colonial era.
In Reason’s Oxymorons, Attia examines the complexities of the human condition and the varying psychiatric practices that have developed throughout Europe and Africa. The artist identifies different approaches to mental health treatment and emotional wellbeing and the various ways it is perceived in Western and non-Western cultures. This work provides crucial insight into the effect of colonialism and the forcible merging of disparate cultures. It is particularly relevant when considering the current crisis of refugees who experience psychological trauma as they assimilate into European societies. The sterile, office-like environment of the installation alludes to the dehumanization that is the result of this type of assimilation and also effectively creates an atmosphere of claustrophobia and discomfort that comes with dealing with any type of trauma or mental health issue.
Attia’s longstanding analysis of the themes of psychological and corporeal repair is essential to his practice. He is interested in the ambivalence that surrounds the act or process of repair as it is envisioned in drastically opposing ways by contemporary Western culture and non-Western traditionalists practicing today. In Western society, there is an unspoken ideology of flawlessness where any physical injury or deformity is “fixed” with plastic surgery or other extreme interventions; applied to emotional wounds, this approach can result in suppression. In non-Western cultures, there is often a celebration of flaws or deliberate and ritual acts of scarification and physical modification. Reason’s Oxymorons exposes this interesting dichotomy and reveals the varying ways trauma and psychological repair are defined in differing cultures. Attia strongly believes it is necessary to openly address and make visible these internalized wounds in order for humanity to truly progress and evolve.
Attia was awarded the Prix Marcel Duchamp in October 2016; in conjunction with the award his work will be on view at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris through January 30, 2017. On January 21, 2017, he will open a solo exhibition of newly commissioned work at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. Also in January 2017, Attia will open a program he was appointed to curate for the 13th Sharjah Biennial in Dakar, Senegal. In April 2017, Attia will open a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney.