Becoming Independent considers this highly complex process for a nation as much as for an individual. As Ireland begins centennial commemorations this year, Algeria celebrated 50 years of Independence in 2012. Amina Menia and Zineb Sedira's installations deal with the fragility of history and identity. Working in the context of contemporary Algeria, they focus on specific disappearances of material culture that could impoverish the formulating and understanding of societal growth. Highlighting a rich heritage is their way to resist amnesia and form new visual reference points for the future.
For Image Keepers (2010), Zineb Sedira interviewed Safia Kouaci in her home in Algiers where she keeps an archive of her husband's activity. Mohamed Kouaci had started photographing in the 1950s in Paris where they were involved with the FLN (the Algerian National Liberation Front). From the late 1950s until Independence in 1962, they moved to Tunis and worked in exile for the Ministry of Information of the Provisional Government for the Republic of Algeria (GPRA). He then continued as the main (if not only) official photographer for the newly independent Algerian government. To date Kouaci's photographs have lacked exposure and study, and have often been appropriated or reproduced with no due crediting and copyrighting. Discussing the photographs allows Sedira to recall key historical events both visually and verbally, alongside the tale of their private life. Sedira envisaged these portraits as an urgent call to experts and funding bodies to contribute to the preservation and diffusion of Kouaci's work in the future.
Amina Menia presents two new works including the video installation titled A Peculiar Family Album. Between 1953 and 1957, the architect from Marseille Fernand Pouillon was employed by the mayor of Algiers, Jacques Chevallier, to build housing estates for destitute Algerians in record time and budgets. The film is an auto-fictive narration with architectural, historical, social and political references, superimposed on archival film footage of these building sites and inaugurations. This architectural and social "miracle" occurred at the same time as the beginnings of the Algerian War of Independence.
Menia's documentary installation Enclosed (2012) investigates the unusual history of The Monument To The Dead of the First World War (1928) which was commissioned by the French authorities for the centre of Algiers. Paul Landowski, sculptor of the main figures (France, 1875 - 1961), also famously realised the Christo Redentor (1931) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the late 1970s, the mayor of Algiers asked a renowned Modern Algerian artist M'hamed Issiakhem to transform this highly visible public sculpture. Issiakhem covered it under a concrete monolithic proposal which obliterates and protects. This gesture is unusual since "offending" colonial statues in any newly constructed nation across the globe have historically tended to be exploded, dismantled, displaced, or destroyed. The 1978 structure is currently cracking and undergoing a restoration campaign. In her installation, Menia tries to place the works of both artists in echo. By revisiting this monument, it is a whole period of the early independence and the birth of a nation that she is concentrating on.
Independent curator and writer, based in Paris, France.
Amina Menia and Zineb Sedira
11 January - 24 March 2013
Royal Hibernian Academy
15 Ely Place, Dublin 2
Curator: Caroline Hancock