In early 2020, when dave Both Brit and Mercury were making British history by winning music awards, with equivalent awards in France making headlines for all the wrong reasons. There was no title award for a black or Arab rapper at that year’s Victories de la Musique. “Domestic rap has become the soundtrack to a national identity crisis,” A critic in this newspaper claimed. Where the UK rapper was crowned as a celebration of black Britishness, French hip-hop was still fighting for the right to be seen as French.
This is a crisis that emerging contemporary art artist Mohamed Borouisa knows from within. As he dryly puts it: “France has some catch to do.”
His latest work is expected to have a hand in this. When we talk on the phone, Bourouisa is in full planning mode. His first large-scale solo show in the UK debuted this month at Goldsmiths CCA. The lockdown saw a stopgap studio in the Pantene in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris turn into a permanent workplace. He has two offices there. One for teams that manage their own large scale projects. “And another,” he says, “where I can be alone and dream.”
His mobile starts ringing when we speak and he has to be plugged in. “Strangely,” he says, “lightning—the electrical impulses that produce living things—is very much in my brain.” last year, for Sydney Biennale, he created a piece called Roots of the Cruel Family, which draws on this idea in a dazzling way. He discovered that the bright yellow-flowered tree he had known from his Algerian childhood as a mimosa was actually a native Australian species known to the indigenous Wiradjuri people. garli. Its spread around the world was the colonial history, written in golden colored pollen.
Rap music has also traveled the world, taking root in new places of urban hardship and resistance. So Bouroisa worked with a sound designer and two Australian MCs to transfer the frequencies in the music that the trees emit. Visitors to the resulting installation lay on a wall-to-wall yellow carpet, between plants mounted in steel drums that were attached to speakers, over which to travel in the air and pass water mixed with the trees’ own tunes. About the rappers were the bar. .
Borouisa was born in Blida, Northern Algeria, in 1978. He moved to France with his mother when he was five and was looking for work. Growing up in banquets, he was not very good at school. He did technical drawing in college, then fine arts at university (and lots of graffiti on the side). A friend introduced him to photography, which he pursued at the famous cole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, before pursuing his post-graduate stint at the Fresnoy research center in Tourcoing. There he started working with the film.
“It’s all about chance encounters. I don’t come from an art background. Initially, I didn’t even understand what it meant to be an artist. I learned it all on the job, so to speak.” Going to school means access to an intuitive tool with knowledge, materials, and a camera with which to reconcile her two worlds. “Our lectures,” he says, “are a very white, Western-style piece of art history.” Centered story told – minimalism, abstractionism, American abstract expressionism, conceptual art. and I thought, No, I want to talk about what surrounds me and my friends.'”
Inspired by early hip-hop documentary photography from Harlem and Queens, Bourouissa headed to the Les Halles shopping mall in Châtelet in central Paris, photographing children in matching Lacoste tracksuits and bucket hats. “It’s quite funny to think that streetwear is so trendy now,” he says. “At the time it was just a subculture. [French] Hip-hop was really starting to come to the fore. I wanted to make it visible. It was not the clothes that were not visible, but the people wearing them. as he told the late curator Okwui Envezor In 2017: “Twenty years ago in France, there weren’t a lot of images of Algerians or black people in books; if there were they were more sociological or ethnographic in nature. It was not about portraying their essence.”
Bourouissa has done a lot to consistently honor unseen communities, not least in his stellar series, peripheral (Peripheral), from 2005 to 2009. Here he restored visceral scenes inspired by historical painting in striking Banley settings. Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People poses young in hoodies and beanies, holding a flag over a flat-roofed garage at night, a high-rise tower glowing in the background.
His groundbreaking 2017 project, Horse Day, meanwhile, began as a film about a group of black cowboys in Philadelphia. Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club) and led to a collaborative celebration of a hidden horse culture with ancient roots.
And then there’s the 2020 sound piece from which goldsmiths show Takes its title: HARA!!!!!! Come on hara!!!!! haha!!! the word “based on”Green”, the Marseille version of “Five-O”, which alerted the Lookout Cry drug dealers to the arrival of police.
By focusing on the hyperlocal in this way, Baurousa diverts our attention from any established center (the capital of a nation; a dominant culture) and instead indicates that people in such marginalized communities are not marginalized in their own right. : where they are doing is their center.
What he’s really interested in, however, is something that goes beyond that center-margin dichotomy: “I’m thinking about how things spread out, how they rub against each other, and how makes space.” Saw this side of the 2020 protest- during which the Black Riding Collectives memorably participated in the BLM March – Bourouissa’s Horse Day is a whole lot darker.
In the midst of a global pandemic and a growing economic crisis, Bourouisa is acutely aware of the impact of any show. “Brexit is really done now. The state of health is catastrophic. I can’t come inside showing me huge expensive pieces. Any struggling young artist would be like, What is this French guy doing?”
Do they mean like Jeff Koons and tone-deaf? Glossy Balloon Tulip Bouquet He gifted Paris at the end of 2019?
“I dare not say that,” replies Bourouisa. “But that’s not to say that I don’t like Jeff Koons either. I love his work; it speaks to an era.”
Bourouissa is definitely talking to herself. When they got 2018. was invited to participate in Liverpool Biennial, he wanted to create a healing garden in Toxteeth, a place of resilience inspired by the gardens of psychoanalysts. Frantz Fanon Developed during his time working in the psychiatric hospital in Blida. So he went back to Algeria to interview one of Fanon’s former patients. Fanon certainly became an influential anti-colonial writer, and Bouroisa’s garden idea resonated with other participants in the biennial. An African studies scholar asked if she could plant seeds (of okra and hibiscus) related to slavery.
In France, however, Fanon’s work is only beginning to find an audience. “He was this important French thinker, who was completely rejected, because at one point [during the Algerian war of independence] He favored the Algerians.” As someone who keeps those histories in his bones, Bourouissa is peeling back the layers.
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