The survey curated by MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent, encompasses over a decade of the artist’s practice, focusing on major installations that are contextualised by video and sculptural works. It is the result of the Kent’s longstanding interest in Attia’s work, and has been realised through their dialogue together in Berlin and Paris over three years.
In 2016, Attia was the recipient of the Prix Marcel Duchamp prize, France’s most prestigious art award. Central to his presentation at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris was the 48-minute single-channel film Reflecting Memory (2016), which forms a highlight of the current MCA exhibition. Exploring themes of injury and the ‘phantom limb’ through interviews with psychiatrists, surgeons, trauma specialists and survivors, it opens up ideas around trauma and its unseen repercussions, for both the individual and wider society.
Attia began his career working in the Congo, an African region deeply affected by decades of war and trauma. Assisting teachers and aid workers, he also developed his own private body of photography there. On his return to France, he continued to build his art practice while working with activist groups that supported migrant communities, including displaced Algerian transvestites who faced persecution in their home country.
Themes of ‘injury and repair’ have been central to Attia’s work for over ten years. To him, they offer a way to examine the impact of history and its legacy today. These ideas are expressed through the juxtaposition of broken objects in his work including: African masks show visible repairs, Classical statuary, and documentary imagery of World War 1 veterans with facial injury and surgical reconstruction. Comprised of 116 stained glass pieces, Untitled (2014) is set into a gaping hole in the gallery wall. Peer through the wall and a colourful array of fragments are revealed which are reminiscent of history unmade.
MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent said, ‘Reflecting on history and the ‘bigger picture’ Attia proposes that the more we understand, the better we can participate in society…’
‘Tracing a lineage of wounded objects and bodies through different cultures, Attia’s art acknowledges the powerful forces of history and the importance of remembering, through gesture and action.’ Kent concluded.
Emptiness and the void are further themes within Attia’s practice. The major installation Ghost (2007) comprises of 160 aluminium-foil casts of kneeling women in prayer. Approached from behind, the figures turn out to be empty shells once viewed in reverse.
Reflecting on Ghost (2007) artist Kader Attia noted, ‘I’m fascinated by the devotion shown by people praying, in any religion. It’s the idea that when they pray, they transform the space. It becomes silent. After this, it [returns to] what it was again.’
Another installation The Culture of Fear: An Invention of Evil (2013) is a towering construction of prefabricated steel shelving, upon which book and journal illustrations reveal a narrative of ‘otherness’, racial stereotyping and cliché in the West, from the 19th century into the present. The adjacent work J’Accuse (2016) features axe-formed wooden busts and legs on upright metal stands. They face towards a video extract from French filmmaker Abel Gance’s 1938 film of the same title, like silent witnesses. Gance made his film twice over – firstly, in 1919, in response to the horrors of the First World War; and in 1938, in anticipation of the Second World War.
From 30 September to 19 November, the exhibition continues opening at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, as a highlight of the 2017 Melbourne Festival.
MCA Director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE said, ‘The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is delighted to bring the work of this outstanding contemporary artist Kader Attia to Australia.’
‘This exhibition has given us the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne where the exhibition will travel to after closing here in Sydney. The MCA is thrilled to work with our institutional peers, and to share contemporary art with wider audiences across Australia.’, Macgregor concluded.
Public programs associated with the MCA’s exhibition include free daily-guided tours; a special edition of Genext for young adults on Sunday 23 April; and an exclusive evening for teachers to gain insight into the artist’s practice on Wednesday 17 May.
On Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 June, the MCA will host a new two-day program of art and ideas called Conversation Starters. The weekend takes the work of Attia as a starting point and aims to see how contemporary art can encourage us to be more tolerant, and open to different perspectives and conversations. Visitors can experience a range of events from films, performances, weaving workshops and a breakfast looking at the culture of eating with the hand. A highlight of the weekend is an exchange with members of Western Sydney’s refugee and asylum seeker community during the PYT | Fairfield performance of Tribunal.
A series of free public programs will coincide with International Museum Day (Thursday 18 May) and the United Nations World Refugee Day (Tuesday 20 June) with guided tours, an artist talk and curator’s Twitter tour.
The newly refurbished MCA Cafe will feature a new menu featuring Algerian flavours to coencide with the exhibition until 30 July 2017. The menu aims to extend the museum experience offering. Diners will be able to try an Algerian Dip Board with Roast Pepper, Hummus, Charred Eggplant, Pickles & Flat Bread; a Vegetable Tagine with Sweet Potato, Tomato, Preserved Lemon, Dates & Flat Bread; and Chermoula Marinated Salmon with Zucchini, Olive & Cherry Tomatoes, plus more.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly-illustrated hardcover publication. It features an in-depth interview between the artist and curator and an exclusive essay by the artist examining themes of ‘injury and repair’ in his practice. The publication is available for purchase at the MCA Store and online at www.mca.com.au/store.
The exhibition is free entry and runs from Wednesday 12 April until Sunday 30 July 2017, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.