bauhaus
imaginista
Artist Text

Research Project by Kader Attia

Kader Attia, Signs of Reappropriation as Repair, 2017, Single projection of 80 slides, Courtesy of the artist.

For his new filmic work for bauhaus imaginista, Kader Attia presented and discussed different media of research materials that rise questions about the understanding of non-Western objects in ethnographical collections in Le Cube, Rabat (Morocco). Looking into the history of these objects, into their original practical and social function as well as into the circumstances of their transition to European and other countries of Western civilization, the workshop aims at conveying the full identity of the objects and to follow the traces of their disappearance that still can be discovered today and call for repair.

With entering the realm of a museum, non-Western objects have become ethnologised objects, which means autonomous objects to be considered from a Western scholarly perspective — no matter what their initial purpose had been; no matter if they were intended to be conserved at all. As artworks, collected objects have been emptied of their practical value and have been undergoing a process of abstraction: They have been cleaned from the body to which they must be connected to function and to be complete. If we want to fully recognize their identity, objects have to be reattached to the body, they must be given back their material performance in interaction with the body. This is most clear for musical instruments that always seem muted and amputated when being exposed in a vitrine; but when we dismiss our Western habits of viewing and valuating, we understand that it affects any collected object, be it an unfamiliar string instrument, a mug or a bracelet.

As an extension of the performer’s body, one has to link the objects from ethnographic collections also to the social body of the group they had been taken from. The present corpus of research tries to follow the traces the disappearance of objects has left, and to explore the strategies of repair. By acknowledging the social role of an object, its practical, mythical or authoritative power, we not only comprehend the full meaning of an object, but it will help us to clear cultural misunderstandings that still live on long time after the heyday of colonialism.

The presentation will include images from the installation Signs of Reappropriation as Repair : images of collected Berber jewelry that bring together tradition and Modernity, that link Oriental and Occidental ideals and that present intercultural encounters as a passage of values always flowing unpredictably in two directions.

Although the jewels are made of traditionally used metals and gems, formally following the style of Berber necklaces, brooches, bracelets and earrings, they additionally incorporate foreign objects that were imported by the colonial powers France and Belgium. There are pendant coins representing their reigns’ insignia: a portrait of Léopold II, an allegory of the French Republic. The jewelry does not only take up foreign countries’ monetary means of exchange but also seems to present them as an apotheosis of their morals and doctrines.

The appropriation of this money however must not be misunderstood as surrender; by no means does it stand for an adaption of the colonialiser’s value or economic system. On the contrary, by integrating these coins into their own cultural creations, the Berber tribes have devalued the European money and bestowed it with a new identity. Both physically and symbolically, it has become part of a system that is not only very different from European early Capitalism but it cannot even be understood any longer from the supposed superior view of Modernity’s Reason.

Thus the transformation of European money into jewelry, sometimes maybe even of ritual function that transgresses any kind of use-value, must be considered as an subversive act — an act that is opposed however to Modernity’s aggressive avant-garde subversion, as it is a more unconscious. Following its own rules, it is not just a reaction to the imposed system; it is independent and even the more powerful. This act of reappropriation shows that seizure and oppression are heterogeneous and that culture is a never-ending process of exchange.

Images: Kader Attia, Signs of Reappropriation as Repair, 2017, Single projection of 80 slides, Courtesy of the artist.

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