The artist was born in 1970 in Dugny, France, and spent his childhood in both France and Algeria. His relationship with national identity was one where he felt ‘in between’, being sensitive to the rich, complex histories of both regions. His work is conceived in relation to ideas of cultural and political transference. The present work, a hypnotic neon piece titled, Demo(n)cracy (2010), is a particularly striking example.
Demo(n)cracy was executed at the tipping point of the Arab Spring, one of the most significant, democratising movements in recent political history. Attia uses white neon light to spell out the word ‘DEMOCRACY’, with an unlit letter ‘N’ in the middle. The insertion of the additional letter is etymologically potent, perverting the power of the demos and instead positing a force for evil and corruption. The composition of the work also formally references the interstitial space that Attia inhabits, both in terms of political ideology and geo-cultural identification. The work is a powerful challenge to the traditional West-East relation; and questions the validity of Western political interventions in the Middle East. The voice of the author is felt keenly through these bright letters, whose luminosity aptly reaches beyond the physical limits of the work.
Attia’s minimalist approach to Demo(n)cracy is informed by the flamboyant, neon assemblages of his predecessors, Dan Flavin and Tracy Emin, yet his monotonous palette and overtly political message adds a more sober dimension to an ordinarily playful medium. The ostensible discrepancy between medium and message in the present work is intentionally provocative, inviting the viewer to form their own opinion about the political declaration at hand.
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