Day by day, as time goes on, people move on, and so do art phases. The latest art phase to hit Algeria is Pop Art, a movement which originated in the 1950s and which uses references from Popular culture, especially music and films, in order to create art pieces, thus the name Pop Art.
Pop Art comes in the form of vivid and colorful imagery such as comics, collages or traditional paintings; nowadays it also comes in the form of digital art. One of the most iconic Algerian Pop Artists is a young man from Boumerdes named Hicham Gaoua, also known as El Moustach. I had the pleasure to interview him and have him enlighten me about his work and about the Pop Art scene in Algeria.
In contrast to other artists, who would use complicated words and philosophical backstories to describe themselves and their art, El Moustach told me that he’s just a simple man who’s trying to make a living (in his words “n’djri 3la el khobza”, which is an Algerian figure of speech that depicts someone just trying to win bread), and saving the world because Batman and Superman are pretty busy. He uses his pseudonym El Moustach as an alter ego, him being an Algerian Super Hero (He is always wearing a blue shirt with the Superman symbol, but with the Arabic letter “س”, instead of the regular Latin “S” we see on Superman’s jumpsuit). He grew up with a passion for doodling and drawing, and started his El Moustach project back in 2014.
His art consists of bold, vibrant art pieces, with a fusion of Algerian and Western Pop Culture. For example, in his piece Just Do It, we can see a woman wearing the iconic Algerian “Hayek” while wearing Nike Sneakers, a pair of Ray Ban and kicking a ball. In another piece called Zaki Project, we see a man on a skateboard wearing sneakers, while playing on an old “Hajhouj” guitar. These two pieces portray how consumerism affected Algerians nowadays to a point where we strongly hold on to our patrimony, such as through Algerian music or traditional clothing , but we would still like to wear expensive brand-name clothes and practice modern activities such as playing football or skateboarding.
Yet, his most praised and iconic piece is “Balaak Athmane Ariouet en Chegevara”, which depicts a portrait of the Algerian actor Athmane Ariouet (actor in famous vintage Algerian films such as “Carnaval fi Dachra” and “De Hollywood a Tamenrasset”). In the artwork, he is dressed as Che Guavara (a radical figure idolized by many young Algerians), along with his famous catch phrase “Raak Kbir” transcribed next to him (which translates to “You’re grown up”, meaning that someone should act more mature).
He has also worked on some animated pieces, such as the opening sequence for a new Algerian comedy series named “DAR EDDROUDJ” that aired in late May 2018, throughout the holy month of Ramadan. In the intro, we can see El Moustach’s signature art style: clashing Algerian culture with modern life; starting with the music which is a hip-hop remix of an old Algerian song by the famous 30s singer Mohammed El Kamal, and incorporating flashy arabesque patterns and applying classic cartoon filters on the cast of the show ; as well as adding in a few scenes that show modern items such as an iPhone (The Average Algerian’s dream phone) and an Instagram homepage.
Just like most artists, El Moustach’s inspiration comes from his surroundings. Growing up in Boumerdes, his main inspiration is a famous coffee shop named “Kahwet el Mador”, which is a very convivial coffee shop that always has Algerian musicians and people dancing and having fun, as well as people of all ages from all around Boumerdes and Algeria. I can see how this could be an inspiration, listening to Algerian folk music and to old-timers spreading their wisdom and talking about how Algeria was back in the day. His other inspirations include his love for Algerian pop culture such as vintage films and television shows, music (especially the Chaabi and Rai, as well as the up-and-coming Algerian Rap scene), and the Algerian dialect. These inspirations reflect through his work, since most of his pieces incorporate these references ; even our interview was held in Algerian dialect!
The message he would like to convey through his art is the awareness about the importance of Algerian art and pop culture in our daily lives, as well as promoting and positively impacting Algerian patrimony. He successfully transfers this message by creating these relatable pieces full of references that can easily be understood by the average Algerian.
Thanks to social media outlets, El Moustach was able to create a platform to post his work in order gain a following, which is rapidly increasing ; his Facebook page has over 22,000 likes. Social media also helped him make and advertise his art expositions.
The reception of his art is also pretty phenomenal ; people really love his work and always praise him for it whether it’s in person, guest books in his galleries or on his Facebook/Instagram pages where he has a gradually rising fan-base.
I personally discovered El Moustach through an interestingly named art exposition he made in Espaco Gallery in Draria, Algiers: SOG Ur Mother is Open at Night; Which is a very famous reference to an Algerian movie called “Ayla ki Nass” or “A Family just like the others”. In the movie, a women asks her husband, pretty late at night, whether the market ( سوق ) was open, to which he responds with a light hearted insult being “ Only your mother’s market is open at night”; thus the name.
As soon as I saw the name, I knew I had to go, and I subsequently did and I was extremely impressed. I am an avid fan of pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and to see Algerian pop art with references I mostly grew up with was a total breathe of fresh air.
My personal favorite piece is “Andy Wahloo” (Translating to “Andy Nothing” in Algerian Dialect), which features Andy Warhol dressed in an Algerian hat and a shirt with the image of the Buffalo that appears on the 1000 Dinar bill, and pulling out his pockets showing that he has nothing in there, with a small Spiderman coming out of it to show how empty it is. Another favorite piece of mine is an installation with vote signs, but instead of having actual candidates, it featured Athmane Ariouet and Darth Vader.
A famous writer named Jerzy Kosiński once said “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”, and looking at El Moustach’s art evokes a sense of nostalgia and warmth inside our hearts, making any Algerian laugh and say to themselves “Where have those wonderful days gone?”, while reminiscing about their childhood and the past.
Written By Hanaa Saadi