"From the political to the intimate, from culture to nature, repair is above all forever linked to its paradox: the injury. From political, individual, and artistic dispossession to re-appropriation, injury and repair constitute existence’s most fundamental relationship. There is no repair without injury, from the intimate to metaphysics; from science to art […] there is appropriation because there was dispossession.”
Much of Attia’s work revolves around the idea of repair. The artist confronts his audience with the facts of Europe’s debt to Africa both for its domination of its people and its appropriation of African objects. In 2013 his exhibition at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin Repair: 5 Acts visually demonstrated the wounds inflicted by colonialism. The exhibition was made up of five parts ranging from a room of vitrines displaying African masks with taxidermy animals to installations made up of photographic and video evidence of the disfigured faces of African soldiers, who lost their lives fighting for colonial powers in the First World War. Attia created his first mirror masks at this exhibition, superimposing the scars of war onto the faces of traditional African masks.
'Mirror Mask', made in 2014, consists of a combination of found objects: an African ritual mask studded with mirror shards, topped with a crouching wooden figure. Kader Attia’s alteration of a traditional African mask refers to the influence of African art on Western modernism. He aims to re-appropriate these objects as art, not ethnographical artefacts, and to put them in the museums that they have previously been denied entrance to. While modernist artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque acknowledged the influence and importance of African masks on their art, the objects themselves have been excluded from exhibitions of their art. Attia refers to the 2009 Grand Palais exhibition Picasso and the Masters, in which Picasso’s stylistic development was charted solely through his debt to Western masterpieces and not a single African mask was put on display. In covering African masks with broken shards of mirrors, the artist forces the viewer to reflect on the fragmentation in these objects and to restore value to these as works of art in their own right.
“Pasting these mirrors on the surfaces made by another sculptor, this procedure is not to be understood as a repair of the work but rather as a kind of Western contemporary amnesia, covering the paternity of tradition over modernity and of tradition over contemporaneity.”
Attia has had over fifty solo exhibitions at renowned museums and galleries worldwide as well as countless significant group exhibitions at institutions such MoMA, New York, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Tate Modern, London. His work has been included in Documenta 13 (2012), the 50th (2003) and 57th (2017) Venice Biennales, as well as Manifesta 2018. The artist was awarded the 2018 Joan Miró award and has exhibited at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona and at the MAC VAL Museum in Vitry.
Kader Attia, Show your injuries. From dispossession to Repair, 2015
Kader Attia, There is no hierarchy in Art, 2013
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