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Arts & Culture

Sex, Religion and War: Meet Artpace’s latest crop of International Artists-in-Residence

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Jungeun Lee, 'Silenced Suffering: The Comfort Women Project'

Photo: , License: N/A

Margaret Meehan, 'Blackbird'

The mighty N’gone Fall, curator for this go-round of Artpace International Artists-in-Residence, is an art critic, consultant, educator and “cultural engineer” based in Dakar, Senegal and Paris, where she graduated from École Spéciale d’Architecture and worked as editorial director of the seminal contemporary African art magazine Revue Noire from 1994 to 2001. In addition to editing the books An Anthology of African Art: The Twentieth Century (2002) and Anthology of African and Indian Ocean Photography: A century of African photographers (1999), Fall co-curated the African Photography Biennale in Bamako, Mali, in 2001, and the 2002 Dakar Biennale in Senegal.

Fall has self-described as a “former architect” and as “a curator without a space” who now involves herself with projects in public and urban environments. In 2004, she helped to orchestrate Gaw-Lab, an ongoing project in which young Senegalese video artists collaborated with idealistic software designers to workshop short web-based animations, which “aired” alongside live Q&A video chats with prominent web-based video artists from Japan, Spain and France, all shown on “squatted” video screens in public spaces—exploding the borders between countries, genres and access to technology.

Fall states her worldview in her essay “Providing a Space for Freedom: Woman Artists in Africa”: “Colonialism brought in its wake a host of other isms: primitivism … racism, imperialism, totalitarianism, traumatism. Moving beyond the isms is the challenge that the new generation of female artists is taking up.”

Three artists, albeit one of them male, go a long way in demonstrating the scars of these isms, in an unmissable nexus of nationalist ideology, melancholy and fascination. I visited the three artists in their Artpace workspaces to check out their progress and talk about their concepts.

French-born Kader Attia is the son of Algerian and Arab parents. He grew up in the ethnically diverse, politically disenfranchised banlieue (suburbs) north of Paris, and also spent time with family in Algiers, where he absorbed the French colonialist history as it affected his own family.

Attia, a stocky, dark-haired whirlwind of hypnotic talk and energy, is employed in the meticulous dissection of a series of mirrors when I find him in his upstairs studio. These relate, he tells me, to the scars of the body and the body politic, and will hopefully spur a different sort of self-reflection in the viewer.

Ghost (2007), perhaps his most famous work to date, consisted of a grouping of 150 small seated tinfoil figures, representing Muslim women in prayer. Fragile, hollow and hunched, these strange portraits represent religious dogma’s required submission of the self. Attia is preoccupied by the homogenization called for by religious fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Christian or Jewish.

Of his time in San Antonio, he said, astonished, “I turn on the TV to flip channels, and there is one, then another, then another—all television shows of preaching.” Attia has also spent time on the road from Santa Fe and Taos Pueblo to San Antonio’s own Franciscan missions, where he was surprised to encounter the domination of Spanish colonial architecture, which, alluringly, often provides a layer of stylistic meaning to natural materials such as the classic colonial style made of earth-based, traditional and fragile adobe. The adobe could mean the natural world or even the native people colonial conquerors saw as human clay.

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