Kader Attia (b. 1970)
Born in 1970 in Dugny, France, and raised in suburban Paris and Algeria, Kader Attia earned degrees from the École Supérieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré, Paris, in 1993; and École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1998.
Attia’s binational background informs a practice that reflects on prevailing differences between contemporary cultures and aesthetics, and on the impact of dominant Western societies on their former colonial counterparts in the context of a globalized world. In installations, photographs, and videos, Attia focuses on the liminal zones that separate contrasting sensibilities, and on attempts to close these gaps. Much of his research has been centered on the concept of repair, which he regards as a human constant envisioned in opposing ways by Western modernists and Eastern traditionalists. Attia regards as erroneous the notion that humankind invents objects, environments, or situations, as opposed to simply repairing—or adapting—existing models.
Attia’s photographic series Rochers Carrés (Square rocks, 2008) presents young Algerians seated on large concrete blocks at a local beach, gazing out to sea in the direction of an unseen Europe. The blocks evoke the Brutalist apartment buildings of the troubled immigrant banlieues, or suburbs, in Paris where the artist grew up, while the figures’ contemplative postures suggest the desire for a better life across the Mediterranean. For his installation Untitled (Ghardaïa) (2009), Attia modeled the Algerian town of the title in couscous, a regional staple now popular worldwide, accompanying the fragile construction with photographs of architects Le Corbusier and Fernand Pouillon and a copy of a UNESCO declaration that identifies the town as a World Heritage Site. Ghardaïa was colonized by France in the nineteenth century, but its local Mozabite architecture informed Le Corbusier’s modernist designs; Attia’s structure thus embodies the impact of Algerian culture on that of the country’s former colonizer, a reversal of the expected flow of influence that “repairs” a received idea.
Attia has had solo exhibitions at the at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, United Kingdom (2007–08); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2007–08); Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle (2008); Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris (2012); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2013); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2013); Beirut Art Center (2014); and Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2016). His work has also been featured in the group exhibitions Contested Terrains, Tate Modern, London (2011); Performing Histories (1), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012); Dix Ans du Projet pour l’Art Contemporain, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2012); After Year Zero, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2013); and Art Histories, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg (2014). Works by Attia were included in Documenta, Kassel, Germany (2013), and the Lyon Biennial: La vie moderne (2015). A retrospective of his work opened at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2015. Attia is the recipient of several awards, including the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2016) and the Joan Miro Prize (2017). Attia lives and works in Algiers, Berlin, and Paris.