Details & Cataloguing

20th Century Art / Middle East


Adel Abdessemed
156 steel knives and wood, in 15 parts
dimensions variable
Executed in 2007, this work is unique.
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Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2010


Istanbul, 10th Istanbul Biennial, 8 September-4 November 2007
Tel Aviv, Dvir Gallery, Adel Abdessemed: Poursuite, 24 November-29 December 2007


Hans Belting, et al., Adel Abdessemed: Works 1988-2015, London, 2017, n.p., illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

French-Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed was born and raised in Constantine, Algeria. He completed his further education in Lyon, France at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. In 2000, he moved to the US where he achieved a residency at MoMA PS1 New York. One year later he witnessed the Twin Towers in New York collapsing at the September 11th attacks. But Abdessemed was no stranger to political discord and social violence. After completing his residency, Abdessemed moved to Berlin and later Paris, where he is still based.

The cities Abdessemed has lived in, and the culture he was born into, are central to his oeuvre. His works are tools through which he engages in his socio-political context and the forms he creates are heavily laden with social commentary. From Abdessemed’s exposure to the politically driven violence of his childhood in Constantine, to the 2005 Paris street riots later in his career, the issues and the injustice he observed around the world have sown the seeds and then gone on to foster a profound commitment to socio-political dialogue and its embodiment through artistic production.

Abdessemed experiments with a variety of mediums in his work including sculpture, installations, film, photography and drawing. Notable issues he has responded to include the Arab Spring and less catastrophic, but nonetheless socially charged works include his bronze sculpture Coup de tête, depicting Zinedine Zidane’s notorious head-butt in the 2006 World Cup.

Axe on is a unique installation by the artist created by using 156 kebab knives arranged in 15 groupings and placed as if piercing the floor like tropical plants. This work partially refers to "the dominion held by wealthier nations over poorer or less developed countries" like some in Africa which are abundant with various tropical plans (Exhib. Cat., London, Parasol Unit, Adel Abdessemed: Silent Warriors, 2010, p. 76). Prior to the project, the artist put an open advertisement on Appartement 22 in Rabat, Morocco inviting people to donate their old used knives in return for new ones. First exhibited at the 10th Istanbul Biennial in 2007, this unique installation is a very strong testament to the artist's politically charged but aesthetically and conceptually stimulating oeuvre.

In a 2015 interview in London, Abdessemed said, “As artists, we must generate tensions for something very positive and extraordinary to come out. If we don’t put our finger on a problem, how will it get proper attention?” (Farah Nayeri, "Adel Abdessemed: Tackling Themes of Everyday Cruelty and Extremism" in: The International New York Times, 20 October 2015).

Abdessemed's oeuvre is characterised by notions of resistance and struggle - his works, by extension, propel and provoke social engagement and political dialogue.  Abdessemed is an artist whose works consistently show that even through destruction and resistance, there are spaces through which creativity is able to blossom.

20th Century Art / Middle East