GalleriesArtists 23-11-2016

Fayçal Baghriche, The Night of Doubt | Humor, Derision, Religion and Propaganda

Last spring, Galerie Jérôme Poggi hosted Fayçal Baghriche’s first Parisian solo show, titled “La nuit du doute” (“Night of Doubt”). The artist, who has reflected throughout his career on the creation of collective symbols, has worked with sculpture, photography and film for his first exhibition in Paris. In the muslim calendar, the night of doubt corresponds to the observation of a thin crescent moon in the night sky, announcing the beginning of Ramadan.

Baghriche has explored the emotional reaction of the international community towards the violence levelled by ISIS against some of Iraq’s major museums. He interrogates the false claims made by ISIS about the historical significance of the artefacts they destroyed, a propaganda campaign which the terrorist organization promulgated through its own social networks as well as through news outlets and the international media.

Humor, derision, religion, propaganda, cosmology and colonization  — all of these elements converge in this exhibition, where the artist also revisits his childhood in Algeria. Here, H A P P E N I N G presents an extract of an interview conducted by curator Caroline Hancock with the artist, exploring this particular “historical” event. The full text is available here.


Fayçal Baghriche: Since the first broadcasts of this video, it seemed obvious that most of the sculptures that were being destroyed were replicas. With the exception of the Lamassu, the human-headed winged bull on the Nergal Gate, and the statue of the God of Rozhan that were disfigured with a jackhammer, the other statues that were smashed to the floor revealed the white plaster they were made with. Sometimes metal rods could be seen sticking out – these are typically used for castings. The ease with which the plaster sculptures break makes the jihadists' destructive gestures look more efficient.

Fayçal Baghriche, La nuit du doute, 2016, video 4/3, sound, 6'20". PhotoAurélien Mole

Destroying authentic stone sculptures to the ground would have required incomparable efforts since they would have been far more resistant to the hammer action. We would usually only know this type of destruction, as presented by Daech, through cinematic spectacles in the peplum genre. There, one would often see the crashing of grand looking decors and ancient statues in a characteristic manner which is difficult not to ridicule. Our eyes now tend to be accustomed to special effects, and therefore somehow they immediately defuse this trickery. In this instance, despite the fact that the museum had revealed the extent of its fake content and that it turned out that most of the original artefacts are preserved in foreign museums or at the National Museum in Baghdad, the international outrage continued to base itself on the genuine nature of the damage.
Countless archeological curators and experts around the world expressed their dismay. Defusing the deception didn't seem necessary, as if this would have lessened the seriousness of the attack. It seems to me that the real violence was the very real will for destruction exercised on the replicas. This changed their status from the rank of mimetic reproductions of common heritage to symbolic representations of universal values. The fact that they are inert anthropomorphic figures reinforces the empathy one feels towards them. For the jihadists, this operation consisted primarily in the diffusion of images of destruction of what they consider to be idols. An idol is not meant to be unique and authentic. It is an artefact representing a divinity destined to be reproduced, disseminated and worshipped. Thus, at the beginning of the video, the spokesperson lodges the action about to unfold in line with that of Prophet Muhammad on arrival in Mecca when he destroyed the 360 idols that were worshipped at the time in the Arabian Peninsula. Nowadays we could pose the following question: what is the point of destroying a divinity that is no longer worshipped by anyone?

How do you propose to decode this dramatization of archeological objects?

According to my research, after 2003 most regional Iraqi museums replaced all their collections with replicas. Only the National Museum has its collections in secret storage spaces. Most of the museum galleries are closed and only a limited public can access them. The conservation work continue nevertheless and places particular attention on the inventory and digitisation of the works of art. In fact there is an entire section of contemporary archaeology devoted to digitisation and more recently 3D digitisation. Daech's wrecking has encouraged many institutional and private initiatives.


The False (2016) Fraisage numérique sur mousse polyurethane 250kg/m3, 60 x 50 x 20 cm. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme Poggi


The Mossoul Project, for example, was launched by a group of university scholars inviting users to make 3D models based on photographs of the artworks that have disappeared or are in danger of doing so, in order to ensure their preservation in digital form. In April on Trafalgar Square in London, The Institute for Digital Archeology is meant to unveil a remake of the arch of the Palmyra Temple of Baal which was destroyed by ISIS. Other initiatives are constantly appearing and it seems to me that they have in common a particular commemorative and demagogic approach: hailing our common history and denouncing barbaric destructions by islamists. I decided to focus on the aesthetic aspects of the subject. I made a replica of the low-relief in the shape of a face that is seen hung high in the video. A jihadist slams a hammer on it several times. In these images, the face seems to harbour a silly smile. In the end, it collapses along the wall and crashes to the ground. It synthesises the jihadists' obsession to destroy heads. Every time a sculpture collapses on the floor, they behead it. The work I am presenting is a reproduction based on a 3D model which was then carved by digital milling on polyurethane foam. This material is generally used to produce a cinema sets, and also for prototyping. As such it is transitory, destined for the production of a mould for multiple editions.


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