Kader Attia | Scars Remind Us that Our Past is Real

Photo credit Anne Murray, Open Your Eyes by Kader Attia
With his first solo exhibition in Spain at the Fundació Joan Miró, Scars Remind Us that Our Past is Real, the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia makes an indelible mark on the city of Barcelona.


Winning 70,000 euros from the 2017 Joan Miró Prize, and this solo exhibition at the foundation in 2018, his return to the city where he once studied at the Escola Massana, Centre d’Art i Disseny, is impressive, provocative, and impactful. This collection of works chosen by the artist himself as a means to enter into the world of his own making, clues us into the path an artist takes in perception, investigation, and experience; sharing with the viewer the intimate connections made through his artistic process and a vision of reparation for the future as a means to greater understanding and the healing of the historic wounds of widespread colonialism. Through a visual schema of rooms, he combines sculpture, slide projections, video, and photography, depicting the recent explorations in his works from 2009-18, including some created in Barcelona.



Photo credit Anne Murray, Kader Attia at his exhibition opening at Fundació Joan Miró



In the multimedia work, Open Your Eyes (2009), with dual simultaneous slide projections, Attia juxtaposes scarred and disfigured faces of soldiers of World War I from the archives of the Historisches Museum in Frankfurt, the Musée du Service de Santé des Armées in Paris, and the Wellcome Collection in London, with a slew of African sculptures and images of intentional patterns of scarification.


These slides witness subsequent repair through early forms of plastic surgery or in the case of the sculptures, improvisational use of an ordinary item such as a button to replace an eye on a sculpture. Torn cheeks and stitched faces entrap the viewer in a pattern of gasps and exhaled relief, a cyclical catharsis, which diminishes the programming of beauty forced upon us in many parts of the world through advertising and media campaigns. Through this progression of images, one is drawn to look deeper for an innate beauty within all humanity and to feel the anxiety and relief that is the inner beauty of our life experience from suffering to solace.  Attia describes a fundamental difference with western practice and thought, and African and Asian society, “… the modern West has always followed the principle that wounds are supposed to disappear when we repair something, that they are supposed to be erased, in traditional African and Asian societies, for example, the repair must be visible.”



Photo credit Anne Murray, detail of J’accuse by Kader Attia


Photo credit Anne Murray, detail of J’accuse by Kader Attia


Here, repair becomes of archeological importance to history, proof of what has transpired and yet a sign that someone has cared to take the time to stitch things up, to consider and collect parts and pieces, a gathering of items to be shown instead of hidden as a tragedy of the past. Attia combines works to repair history, reconstruct memory, and elevate justice, and the beauty of humanity in all its forms. One passes through several rooms, with various works of video, and sculpture, and is knocked out by the triumphant and almost monumental surprise of the work, J’accuse (2016), which consists of more than a dozen wooden carved heads on metal armatures as plinths. The heads tower above the viewer, all facing towards a projected video on the side of the room nearest to the entrance, so one is impressed first with the emphasis of these heads by themselves staring with the same disfigurements portrayed in the images of, Open Your Eyes, and then upon wandering through this labyrinth of heads, one observes the video in relation to the works. At once, an innate understanding is revealed to the viewer, the path that the artist has taken to travel in time from the observation and juxtaposition of images in his work, Open Your Eyes, to the synthesis in form and placement of this work, is evident and clear. The grotesque faces in the photos in Open Your Eyes are now undulating curves and shadows, becoming tangible in their scars and displaced features carved in wood, but also as deities in themselves, being supernatural and wonderful, elegant and emotional with their warm cedar tones and distinct features. The heads are created from one hundred year old trees, and their features convey a wisdom, witnessed by these once noble denizens of the forest.



Photo credit Anne Murray, detail of J’accuse by Kader Attia



The exhibition includes more than twenty works with observations and connections to architecture, independence, and colonialism, as well as emotion, repair, and politics. It is organized in a fashion with the artist’s own selection and positioning to invite the viewer as a student, aiding in the understanding and progression of his themes and investigations. Attia’s exhibition is well worth the visit, as you will find yourself with the desire to see more of his works and to read more of the artist’s writings about his own work.



15 June– 30 September 2018 
Exhibition organized by the Fundació Joan Miró and Obra Social ”la Caixa”



Article by Anne Murray