– Autumn/Winter 2018

Time Torn

Hannah Gregory

Kader Attia, Repair, Culture’s Agency #4, 2014, marble sculpture, antique wooden board with Arabic inscription, wooden plinths. Photograph: Nora Rupp. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano/Beijing/Les Moulins/Habana

Three composite objects, made in the space between the destruction of empire and the creative acts of individuals situated somewhere within it: 1) coins from the French metropole incorporated into Berber chain-mail jewellery endowed with protective powers; 2) a metallic Jesus on a cross made out of two rifle cartridges – the biggest exports of the European colonisers, Christianity and arms, welded together in a World War I trench by a soldier as a much-needed prayer piece; 3) a section of Kuba textile from Congo, with linear embroidery and small patches of cotton gingham.

In each of these items, a collective means of resistance or reassurance – ritual, religion, ceremonial craft – is personalised by the work of the hands. These objects activate and embody Kader Attia’s way of thinking. He considers the Kuba loincloth a point of origin for his ongoing work around reappropriation and repair.1 Appropriating the materials and symbols of one’s oppressors is taken to be more than a matter of resourcefulness – it is a process of reclaiming agency. The loincloth was given to the French-Algerian artist by a friend while Attia was undergoing compulsory military service in the late nineties in an NGO-related

  1. Photographed in the artist’s archives in Kader Attia, RepaiR (ed. Léa Gauthier), Paris: Blackjack éeditions, 2014, pp.73–75.

  2. K. Attia, interview with Bernard Mole, in RepaiR, op. cit., p.205.

  3. Artist text to accompany ‘Repairing the Invisible’, S.M.A.K., Ghent, 2017, available at http://smak. be/en/exhibition/10980 (last accessed on 27 May 2018).

  4. Conversation with the artist, 4 March 2015, in Hannah Gregory, ‘Archival Impulse, an interview with Kader Attia’, Apollo, April 2015.

  5. Manthia Diawara, ‘Kader Attia – A Glissantian Reading’, in The Repair, from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, Berlin: The Green Box, 2014, available at http://kaderattia.de/kader-attia-a- glissantian-reading/ (last accessed on 8 May 2018).

  6. Text accompanying the exhibition ‘Repair Analysis’, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2013, available at http://www.strozzina.org/en/artists/kader-attia/ (last accessed on 8 May 2018) and conversation with the artist, 4 March 2015.

  7. Conversation with the artist, 4 March 2015.

  8. Artist text accompanying ‘Repairing the Invisible’, op. cit.

  9. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, ‘Those Who Are Dead Are Not Ever Gone, On the Maintenance of Supremacy, the Ethnological Museum, and the Intricacies of the Humboldt Forum’, South as a State of Mind #10, Maintenance, June 2018, p.37. The title is taken from Birago Diop’s poem ‘Spirits’. Ndikung sets out his arguments with specific reference to the controversial rebuilding and rebranding of Berlin’s Humboldt Forum and the German colonial context. Indeed the discussion of maintenance in relation to art-making throughout this issue has interesting resonances for Attia’s repair.

  10. Ibid., pp.45–46. Ndikung references Alain Resnais and Chris Marker’s film Statues Also Die (1953): ‘the placement of these ritual beings in glass vitrines in well-tempered museums in the West is a form of murder.’

  11. It should be noted that Ndikung refers to specific examples of extorted relics, such as the Benin Bronzes and the throne of King Nsa’ngu of Bamum.

  12. ‘Repair is not only about fixing: it’s a process that that binds two situations, that turns one situation into another one through a sort of improvement, positive or negative, but it’s never stable, never the same.’ Conversation with the artist, 4 March 2015.

  13. Gloria Anzaldua’s term for arts rooted in performance ritual in ‘Tlilli, Tlapalli: The Path of the Red and Black Ink’, cited in Ndikung, op. cit. p.46. Out of hundreds of exhibitions, I counted ten on the African continent.

  14. See Thomas Reinhardt, ‘The Cannibalization of the Other. Mirror, Art and Post-Colonialism in Kader Attia’s Repair. 5 Acts’, available at http://kaderattia.de/the-cannibalization-of-the-other- mirror-art-and-postcolonialism-in-kader-attias-repair-5-acts/ (last accessed on 27 May 2018).

  15. I am made to think of the doubts of curator Helen Molesworth in her essay on the work of Simone Leigh: ‘the increasingly discomforting possibility that an overconfidence in the power of critique might itself be a vestige of privilege. […] I find myself wondering whether the whole damn project of collecting, displaying, and interpreting culture might just be unredeemable.’ H. Molesworth, ‘Art is Medicine’, Artforum, March 2018.

  16. ‘Objects/Subjects in Exile, A Conversation between Wayne Modest, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, and Margareta von Oswald’, L’internationale [online magazine], 9 March 2017, available at http://www.internationaleonline.org/research/decolonising_practices/89_objects_subjects_in_exile_a_ conversation_between_wayne_modest_bonaventure_soh_bejeng_ndikung_and_margareta_von_oswald (last accessed on 20 May 2018).

  17. Part of ‘Repair. 5 Acts’, KW Institute of Contemporary Art, 2013. Blown-up negatives of these photographs also appeared in the installation J’Accuse (2012), ‘NEWTOPIA: The State of Human Rights’, Mechelen, 2012.

  18. K. Attia, interview with Bernard Mole, in RepaiR, op. cit., p.205.

  19. Text accompanying the exhibition ‘Scarification, Self Skin’s Architecture’, Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin, 2015.