Documentary-based installation: photographs, plans, interview, postcards, coin, banknote, stamp, documentation. Archival material has been kindly made available by the Issiakhem family archive in Algiers, by the Indivision Landowski and the Musée des années 30 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France.
Produced by the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin. Courtesy of the artist
“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, exploring territories and spaces through public art commissions.
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 1978, Algiers was hosting the Panafrican Games. The mayor of Algiers appointed M’hamed Issiakhem, one of our leading artists, 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”. 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 have chosen to place the works of both artists in echo. Issiakhem’s gesture is very moving and exceptional. He installed Landowski’s monument 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 socio-political project of the new Algerian Republic. 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 in an open-handed presentation that draws glimpses rather than revealing the whole picture…”