Ammar Bouras: When testimony is resistance

When testimony is resistance. The multimedia installation Tag'out synthesizes his commitment to break the silence around Algeria's recent history.
By Nadira Laggoune | Mar 2012

Ammar Bouras is the most recognizable contemporary Algerian artist on the local art scene and, among other local artists, is also the most internationally sought after. Since the 1990’s, he’s taken a more multimedia approach in his work, focusing primarily on using video and photography to create his animated walls of images, mosaics and array of stories drawn from the real. At the intersection of aesthtetics, the political and the social, his work interrogates structures of power, tolerance, identity and existence, betrayal…

Investigating these concepts is a continual search that has guided his work since the 1990’s: he examines the way in which human relationships seem to be determined a dominant ideology and then examines politics and violence that result from such an ideology. His photographic work, which began around the end of his studies at l’Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-arts d’Alger, focused on tragic current events (the ten years of terrorism in Algeria). Forced to confront these issues, Bouras was unable to ignore the political and social upheaval in his art; working in such an atmosphere impelled him to concentrate his work on the painful reality of everyday life in Algeria.

As a result, the pain of living in these conditions inhabits his images like a leitmotiv that aches, one that encourages the need to speak and to make seen; video, a medium that imposes itself by the power of movement is, therefore, the appropriate mode of expression. In the videos Stridencies, sang/commentaries (Stridence, blood/commentaries), Un aller simple (One-way journey), and Serment (Oath), Bouras merges images of mundane experiences with those that represent difficulties experienced in Algerian cities. In order to express this contrast, Bouras establishes the narrative with banal images of everyday life, mostly taken from his personal archives; this artistic process of memory reveals a relationship of the past and present through traces of gestures and of emotions.

If human beings are creatures of memory, if each one of us is inhabited by our past, by our history, the artist has a difficult task that always returns to the question: how do I represent the unrepresentable, the horror of this drama? What method shall I use that can put into images that express this tragedy without privileging the immediacy of the mass media and, above all, in a way that does not betray my memory? The artist faces so many questions, as a witness of terror that is ravaging and destroying society.

One can observe that contemporary artistic practices are in large part characterized by a relationship, whether direct or implicit, with empirical reality. However, the artistic discourse, which is part of lived experience, is a different way to observe and realize this relationship with empirical reality, since it frames the work differently (in galleries or other spaces of exposition) and gives it another temporality, a kind of distance.

By questioning the images and their capacity to represent events, Bouras, who was (in the 1990’s) a photojournalist to the people, today more than ever, draws attention, in his most recent works, to the fundamental relationship between the past and the present: he views memory as both as a contained process and a creative apparatus

The vocation of art to awaken one’s consciousness is illustrated by Bouras’ work, Tag'out [1]. This piece synthesizes all his previous approaches of addressing these issues and was exhibited, for the first time, at the Sharjah Biennial in April 2011. This is a decisive piece because it represents, in a sense, a culmination of all the years of treason and terror that still haunt everyday life in Algeria. Tag'out is a montage of media that mark the tragedy of these events: a wall of photographic and painted images, videos that is a reinterpretation of mass media, governmental and personal documents.

These images are self-reflexive because they seem to question their ability to represent these events. They ask us: how do we understand, through an image of the past, what really happened? To what extent can the image be evidence of the truth? It’s clear that the images evoke the memory of the events without really being able to represent them because the artist cannot substitute as a replacement for the historian or the politician. However, when amnesia asserts itself and a real discussion about the event fails, the artist realizes this past through a reinterpretation of the sensible and re-interrogates tacit consent, status quo, and other kinds of betrayal.

This is an approach of resistance, a re-appropriation of history in which the work seems to compensate for the silence surrounding the events, which, for Bouras, is a kind of betrayal.

In Tag'out, history, memory, and their traces constitute the body of the work. The quantity of images jostle themselves about in a frenzied movement and thus demonstrate that history is not made from a single fragment of an event, but from a multitude of fragments of individual and collective memories. Together, these images create an artistic space that is somewhere in between reality and fiction.

With Tag'out, Bouras creates a work that re-activates fundamental questions and interrogates the struggle against the forgotten and the dead; the visual representation of these traces/testimonies is polysemic, made more intense through all the emotion that is condensed in this space: the images question the way we form our memories, and how we conceptualize our lived experience.

At the end , it’s about surviving through the work, the fragile survival of memory and the traces that history leaves in us.

 

<line>Note:</line>

  1. "In the eyes of the Islamist terrorists I belonged to the hateful category of the tagh’out – a traitor to the cause of God. As an artist and journalist, I was living in a state torn between the rule of law, ‘loyalty’ to Islam and the aspirations of struggling for a free, democratic and modern Algeria. The worst was to endure up close the atrocities of a civil war that did not acknowledge itself as such. The most shocking moment was when, having been assigned to cover his speech, I witnessed the assassination of President Boudiaf. This work is about memory, a return to the archives and recollections of that period." Statement by Ammar Bouras, 10th Sharjah Biennial 2011


Nadira Laggoune

Art critic and curator. Lives in Algiers, Algeria.

(Translation from French: Maya Sidhu)

Tagh’out, 2011
Multi-channel mixed-media installation
2 light boxes
500 x 220 cm each

Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
Project part of the 10th Sharjah Biennial 2011

Nafas
Back to Top