For several years now, I have been working on issues around public space, cityscape and urban policies. My interest in architecture is based on the fact that it is an archaeology of the culture, history and highlights of a city. It is the symbolic territory for the frenzies of men and their desire for power.
Gradually, I extended my research from heritage, to political and post-colonial issues.
When I have been offered the chance to work in Ireland, I found it very natural to continue a project started in Algiers which questions how to re-appropriate, re-conquer territories and spaces through public commissions? I had the impression that maybe both the Algerians and the Irish share similar concerns about this.
How did Dublin and Algiers impose their independence and sovereignty upon artworks in the city? How did they reshape and re-qualify a certain colonial legacy to start the decolonisation process?
Enclosed is about the unusual history of a monument located in the heart of Algiers. It was firstly the Monument to the Dead, made by Paul Landowski, commissioned by French authorities for commemorating both French and Arab soldiers dead in the First World War. It held centre stage from 1928 to 1978.
In the late 1970s, the mayor of Algiers appointed M’hamed Issiakhem, one of the founders of Algerian Modern Art, to “do something” with this monument. The artist didn’t want to remove it or destroy it so he decided to enclose it in a sort of sarcophagus to protect it. I love this silent dialogue between 2 artists, this memory interlocking.
A few months ago, during the 50th anniversary of our independence, a crack started appearing on the front of this “double monument”. It was a big panic, and nobody knew how to deal with this problem. A controversy grew between those who want to keep the sarcophagus and those who want to remove it and admit the original monument with all its connotations. It is a memory competition between the official History and its other sides to be enlightened.
As the third generation of artists to dialogue with this public monument, I chose to place the works of both artists in echo. Issiakhem didn’t really dialogue with Landowski or his work because he had the obligation to cover it. But I found his gesture very moving and exceptional. It is so generous on the part of an artist to respect someone’s work like this and to set it in another relation to time and history. He offered the next generation the choice (or maybe the responsibility) to admit the fate of this sculpture.
I discovered how intimately connected Issiakhem's life and work were with all the transformations that occurred in Algeria during more than 2 decades. He illustrated the sociopolitical project of the new Algerian Republic. He was always primarily a freedom fighter, before being an artist. He crystallised a certain “Algeria” that still remains today, tinted with nostalgia. He influenced a whole generation of artists, and still today, young artists claim their filiation to him.
"By revisiting his work, it is a whole period of our early independence and the birth of a nation that I am concentrating on. I have tried to underline discreet realities, highlight unseen details, create links where dots were left…"