Adel Abdessemed is no stranger to controversy, his violent work is a vast collection of hard-hitting provocations executed with discerning sensitivity.
Born in Constantine, Algeria in 1971, Abdessemed’s life and art has been shaped by terror and violence. During the first few years of increasing tensions between the government and various guerrilla factions in Algeria, Abdessemed studied Fine Art at École Supérieure des Beaux Arts. In 1994 Ahmed Assalah, the University’s director, and his son were murdered on school grounds, which led Abdessemed to evacuate his home country.
- Upcoming solo show, Unlock, at the Tang Contemporary Art, Hong Kong 2019
- Solo show, L’antidote, at the Musée d’art Contemporain de Lyon, Lyon, 2018
- Solo show, Conflit, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montréal, 2017
- Mappamonde-olive sold for $350,000 USD at Christies, New York, 2011
- Exhibited at the Venice Biennale, 2003, 2008, 2015
Moving to Lyon, he enrolled at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts to complete his studies, and then worked at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. In 2000, Abdessemed was awarded a residency at MoMA PS1 in New York, where his work was exhibited in the group exhibition Uniform: Order and Disorder. With his time in the city marked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Abdessemed moved back to Paris, where he is still tirelessly exposing the cruel and inconvenient realities of systemic, organised violence through his artwork.
Je Suis Innocent in 2013 saw Abdessemed become the youngest artist in history to be given a solo retrospective at the Pompidou Centre. Erected in front of the iconic museum, was a five-metre-tall, bronze effigy of the seminal moment that Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi in the final minutes of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Italy. Zidane, like Abdessemed, is of Algerian, Berber descent. While he was provoked by a racial slur from Materazzi, the reaction ended Zidane’s illustrious career, France went on to lose the match, and the event was ultimately remembered as a national failure. By monumentalising such a complex contemporary moment with the epic grandeur of Soviet nationalist sculpture, Abdessemed rouses an intricate web of racial, religious, micro, and macro violences as they collide within the shifting boundaries between victim and aggressor.
The use of animals in Abdessemed’s work has made him the subject of protest and public outcry. The video, Spring (2018), which used special effects to show a line of chickens hung on a wall being set on fire, was taken out of his solo show L’antidote at the MAC Lyon, following outrage from animal rights activists. Similarly, his solo show at the San Francisco Art Institute the same year, Don’t Trust Me, was shut down after death threats were made to the artist due to a film that documented animals being brutally slaughtered. Abdessemed maintains that the violence he documented in the video would have happened whether he witnessed it or not, yet such controversy only emphasises the urgency of Abdessemed’s practice. Serving to expose an ugly but necessary truth, his work is merely an articulation of the world in which he has lived. As Abdessemed put it himself: “The world is violent—not me”.
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