Algerian Artists at The Second Biennial of Photography in the Contemporary Arab World curated by Bruno Boudjelal

An Interview with artists Hakim Rezaoui (HR), Sihem Salhi (SS), and Atef Berredjem (AB)

By Anne Murray (AM)

AM: What role does introspection play in your work?

HR: I will say a role of connection, it is the ultimate sense of my work, it is also the thread between art and philosophy (in my work) and visually it is seen through the blur, the movements etc. … and all this attracts questions about oneself and about the environment around us.

SS: Introspection in my work is primary. It’s the key to the right photo … it’s our sensations that guide us! It is only after that comes the know-how … that everyone else can acquire!

AB: In my photographs, I put introspection last in relation to my conceptual ideas, my photos do not exist for themselves, but they serve as a documentation of my research.

AM: It seems that you are all very focused on particular approaches and that in some ways your ideas intersect, but here in terms of introspection, you diverge.

Hakim, in your series, A Way of Life, you use atmosphere, color and natural forms to express emotions much like in a Tarkovsky film, what role would you say emotion plays in your work?

HR: It is not important, but it is essential, in my opinion, emotions in general are the result of pure or true work and expression and the result will be transcendant and felt in a universal way; it is just the means of expression that is going to be different.

AM: How does music relate to your creative process?

HR: I listen to Nils Frahm, Tim Hecker and Air, for example, which haunt my days and nights.Through them I lose myself in space and time, neutrality invades me and all these feelings that reverberate in my process of creation in an abstract way, one no longer knows if a silhouette is a woman or a man, if she comes or goes away, does she really exist? Like music, all this is only an eternal questioning, like musical notes in my work, it’s both madness and movement.

AM: Sihem, you are also a professional storyteller, can you tell me how this aspect of your life influences your photography ?

SS: Yes, I am a storyteller and it usually shows in my photographs! In my work one always has the impression of a vision … of a tale … of a story … because one sees! There are many of us who find ourselves in our photos … in some way our photos are impregnated with us!

AM: Can you tell me a little about what it is like to be a woman photographer in Algeria? 

SS: Being a woman photographer in Algeria is not an easy thing! It is necessary to defy the beliefs of society, which is too conservative for my taste (especially where I live, in Constantine) … if you take a camera and you take pictures in the street, it is all eyes that will follow you! Unless you go out in a group where they will take you for a tourist hahaha… ..but it goes like this …. people begin to gradually become accustomed to change… Anyway, everything else is changing at high speed and I hope that photography will follow, especially among female artists! It is a daily struggle!

AM: Atef, your work has a more externalized process and outcome. Your series, To Here From Here, was created as a voyage by train from Annaba to Algiers to create the same amount of distance as it would take to travel around the world. This journey took you thirty-two days, 11 hours, and 46 minutes of train trips from Annaba to Algiers to achieve the distance.  What was the impetus for creating this journey by train, in your series, To Here From Here?

AB: During my interminable commute over the last 17 years, between my city and the capital, Algiers, I found that I was going around the world in a train that does not even exit the borders of Algeria, a sort of trip that stays in one place. I started to ask myself, “An Algerian train, could it go around the world, and if so, how long would it take?” I began to answer this question by measuring the duration of each trip and deduced that it would take 64 trips to make 40,075 km, which is the distance for a trip around the world. The most unforgettable moment of my series is when I arrived at the end of the world, that is, when I completed the loop and returned to the starting point, it was late at night, waiting for one exact place at the end of the journey, 10 km from the city of Khroube (Constantine) at 3:23 in the morning.

AM: How do you think your work connects with other Algerian photographers?

SS: We Algerians understand each other without even talking! My photographs are naturally connected to the other Algerian artists…because they come from the same environment!

HR: The connection to other Algerians is omnipresent because the expression of art is universal after all, and perhaps for my work, I perceive things in a poetic manner, but also more vague and I am not so precise, which allows for connection to all.

AB: Art is a natural environment, a cause and effect, one work provokes another, and each project influences another. In Algeria, there are very few contemporary artists, especially in conceptual photography. For the most part, Algerian photography is documentary in nature, but the current dynamics are creating change and new forms of photography will appear.

Author: Anne Murray

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