Art and Memory of the Maghreb

Mr. Kamel Lazaar opened the meeting with a presentation of the Foundation that aims to build a museum to house a collection of Contemporary Arab art. He recalled that the objective of the Foundation is primarily to support North African and Middle Eastern artists and promotion of culture in this region.


Madame Rachida Triki, coordinator of the meeting, said that the meeting "Art and Memory" fits into the logic of the cultural policy of the Foundation. She also recalled the existence of a North African cultural entity and the artistic proximity between the three countries (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco). She emphasized that this first meeting was an opportunity to reflect on the state of material that could give rise to a study of 20th century art history of the Maghreb.


We must therefore consider the history of visual arts in North Africa by assessing the role of associations, galleries, museums and foundations to ensure the conservation and promotion of this heritage.


Thinking about visual arts of the Maghrab


Ms. Anissa Bouayed, curator and historian of the national movement in Algeria, stressed the need to think of art history in North Africa in order to give meaning to all the works we want to keep.


She recalled that there was a study on this scale since Algerian association "Art and Memory" was founded, but that unfortunately the prevailing ideology and politics…


The majority of studies stand out from the orientalists, they proclaim themselves to break away.  (Guermez) Jean ATLAN born in Constantine in 1913 embodies the problem of national culture as it is absent.


Who is John ATLAN? _ Projection: showing he is an abstract painter, a philosopher by training, forbidden by Jewish law, he will be institutionalized for madness and he will paint, his works were exhibited in the USA and Japan and became well known. Atlan was always defined in his relations to his to Judeo-Berber origins. so he produced work of cultural memory and has been criticized for his origins. These important works were without titles, Oraise, Akahena, Maghreb1, Maghreb2 in 1950.


How was the reception in Algeria?


We talk very little Atlan. Atlan is very famous internationally but has an unstable place in the Maghreb. His name does not appear and his works are not in museums;


So there are two missions across the Maghreb:


1) Not to allow his works to disappear into oblivion


2) To base the work on aesthetics and not on the political or the ideological



Nadira Laggoune, Dora Bouzid, Rachida Triki, Farid Zahi and Hamid Mahjoub (L to R), Maghreb Seminar, 8th and 9th October 2011 Art and Memory: The Case for Plastic Arts in the Maghreb Kamel Lazar Foundation, Dar El Medina, Tunis.
Nadira Laggoune, Dora Bouzid, Rachida Triki, Farid Zahi and Hamid Mahjoub (L to R), Maghreb Seminar, 8th and 9th October 2011 Art and Memory: The Case for Plastic Arts in the Maghreb Kamel Lazar Foundation, Dar El Medina, Tunis.

Ms. Nadira LAGOUNE, Algerian curator and art critic spoke of the need to launch a debate about the writing on art from North Africa in what she called: Deconstruction and reappropriation.


It should be mentioned that in North African art there should be a debate about what is art and what is not. Ask questions: What will art history be for us? 1) – Why did art history begin with colonization for us? Why colonization as a benchmark?


She continues that in order to write the history of art, we must reposition ourselves in relation to history with a capital H. She also adds that there is a collective memory that nourishes the history of the of art.


She stresses that in art schools, they teach art history is the history of European art, which means that there is a prevailing Eurocentrism and that local art is absent.


This duality between education and the living memory is being taught as a dead history. There must therefore be a deconstruction in the way of teaching. The path of history in Europe is not the history of our country, that is why she says that we must begin to write the history of North African Art.


She raises the question of the sources of this history (newspapers, biographies ...). All this is enough to write the history of art. We have to invent ways and she eventually stresses the keywords of dispossession and reappropriation need to be considered in order to write the history of art in the Maghreb.


Mr. Ferid ZAHI, Moroccan art critic and image specialist thinks that the problem of art history in the Maghreb is need, as memory is a trace of this. He then refers to Khatibi and Derrida. He defines the memory as mental images or visions that forge a genuine search for identity.


This creative act, for example in the work of Ferid Belkahia is a passage where the body of the artist captures the memory. Why is this passage symbolic of the body? It is because the corporeal signs becomes memory. The body in contemporary art is work.


The work of Hicham Ben Ouhoud  bears directly on his own body.


The body in Islam is sacred : it is a politicization of memory: the boundaries between politics, ethics and aesthetics is an ongoing debate in the history of art


Youssef Rahmoun talked about a memory doomed to extinction. These are the cracks of memory.


The ambiguity lies in the fact that there is the memory of the artist but also other memories: politics, history, ethics ... that are grafted on to the history of art.


Mr Houcine Tlili, Tunisian historian of art posed the problem differently, according to him, the art of painting began in Tunisia in 1850 with Ahmed Osman and 1894 saw the advent of Orientalism. Pioneers have tried to achieve a certain break with Orientalism. . . Tunisian painters Yahia and Ali Ben Salem  began to criticize Orientalism (in its representation of the folklore of the medina).


In the exhibitions of 1920-30 : the Algerian Racim showed Algerian flags to be different from Orientalism. In Morocco ? We eliminated the figurative representation there. As for the Tunisians painters, they developed a different perspective (this is the school of Tunis with painters Zoubeir Turki, Jalel Ben Abdallah,Gorgi ...), they realized a very important break ...


He also highlighted another break with the group in 1960 (with painters Belkhoja, Larnaout, ...) who had developed a new position with respect to representation in Algeria .. the thing was done in the same way: the group Awchem had developed the art of painting in an attempt to regain his memory.        


This break was therefore common in the three countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) in1960 (an artistic and cultural unity was developed at that time); Houcine TLILI was invited to see the review of "Integrale" of 1973 in memory where there are some articles written about his break.


Mr. Hamdi Oumaima, Tunisian sociologist who also worked at the school of arts, thought that history of art in Tunisia is fragmentary, incomplete and highly uncertain especially as it is linear. This way of writing history does not appear ; its complexity is made simple and simplistic.


Therefore, Hamdi Oumaima invited us to be creative and find documents and adds the need to create a team with a background to give us a fair and correct chronology.


Mrs. Dorra Bouzid, Tunisian cultural journalist and art critic who has written a book about the school in Tunis said that there was a brotherhood and solidarity between artists of this school, they were united at the Cafe de Paris in center of Tunis (Yahia, the father of Tunisian painting, and Ammar Farhat Zubair Turki ...) They looked into the foundations of our origins and also drew on the legacy of the Baghdad school including the School of Music of Asfahan and were precursors (Ali BELLAGHA was Turkey, Hedi Turki of Chechnya, Brahim Dahak of the oasis and Africa, Jalel BEN ABDALLAH Safia Farhat and also ...)


Ms. Dorra BOUZID also emphasized that at this time, Tunisian Jews such as Lelouche and NACCACHE were very united with Muslims and concluded that there were, at that time, several galleries of Italian and African origin  ... and it would rightly bring value to the artists of the Maghreb without commemorate an official manner to revive the internal memory.

8-9 October 2011
Dar El Medina, Tunis