This book is undoubtedly a monograph in the traditional sense of the word,
considering it contains reproductions of the majority of Kader Attia's body
of work since his early career. Within it, you'll discover the multiple facets of
his work. And yet, for every installation he also produces films, photographs,
collages, drawings, and objects, and if you ask him to define himself in one
word (which he does only grudgingly) he would say that, above all, he's a
sculptor. Throughout this multiplicity of media, it's actually the plasticity of
realities, histories and identities that he explores as material.
We decided to structure this publication not along chronological lines but
with an emphasis on the organic, pre-existing relationships between projects.
The book contains nine sections, entrances into his body of work that
converge as both reflexive lines of thought and critical standpoints. Kader
Attia wanted to “use” his work to initiate (or continue) conversations with
people who, in some cases, are quite distant from the art world. He hoped
to reveal the elaborative process within his plastic research, which draws a
great deal on exchange, association and displacement. Each section contains
archive pages where visual and textual documents gravitate as satellites
to his work. These archives have no didactic intent, nor are they exhaustive,
rather they contribute to exploding the narrative, or more precisely
the attempt at narrative. And even here, it's a sculptural act: from this flow
of documents, Kader Attia extracts certain ingredients to shape a unique
history of his artistic process and commitment.
The work in this context is a manifested source for investigation that attests
directly to the function and power of art today, also operating within the
fields of architecture, medicine, psychoanalysis, natural science, political
science and the methods along which their respective histories are built.
In a way, this publication acts as an invitation from the artist for you to
enter his mental studio. It not only speaks to scholars of the art world or of
his body of work, but to all those who consider themselves wardens of the
present. So the term “monograph”, though not exactly false, does not entirely
articulate the intention of this book: the voices expressed here within
are multiple, the angles are open, the approaches complex.
Perhaps, in the spirit of introductions, I should start at the beginning, with
the title: RepaiR
. And, to shed light on this word, it seems fitting to share
an anecdote, an origin story or perhaps the triggering event. More than
20 years ago, while Kader Attia was finishing his service in the Congo (in
France at the time, people who refused their “military service” were called
“conscientious objectors”), a friend gave him an old loincloth that once
belonged to his great aunt and had been patched together with bits of Vichy
. Kader Attia held on to this object without really looking at it, until one day he realized that the repair done to the cloth was in fact a powerful
and assertive act of cultural reappropriation. His friend's great aunt made
an exogenous item her own, an item belonging to a culture that, by way of
colonization, had repressed hers, and yet she managed to mark this object
with her own individuality. Double wounds: insects had eaten the cloth, colonizers
had devoured her country, and by using Vichy fabric to repair the
cloth, the old woman had engaged in a double reparation, that of the object
and of her own identity. On a symbolic and concrete level, she in turn devoured
the other. I'm using the word “devour” here intentionally, to echo the
written by Oswald de Andrade in 1928 (2)
. The poem
is an assertion of Brazilian singularity in the face of Europe, a case in favor
of the anthropophagy practiced by the Tupi indians (original inhabitants of
the Brazilian coast), who devoured their enemy to access their power, literally
incorporating and becoming the other. Thus the great aunt of Kader
Attia's friend succeeded, through a traditional method of cloth repair, in
incorporating an otherness, assimilating and, in a sense, digesting it.
Continuing his investigation, Kader Attia understood the fundamental difference
between the idea of reparation in the modern West and reparation
in the non-Occident. Western modernism (introduced by the Quattrocento)
advocates reparation as an ideal and ideological return to the same: it
strives, then, to retain the integrity of the original object. On the other hand,
most non-Occidental cultures value the act of repairing in and of itself and
make these repairs visible rather than hide them. These cultures have no
pretensions about returning the object to a pseudo-original, perfect state.
Was Western expansionism (through conquest and colonies), led by concepts
of progress and humanism, not legitimized by an ideology of reparation? Is
reparation not at the very heart of so many exchanges between the West
and other countries, be it in regard to restitution, compensation or recognition?
While we live in a word where Western-centrism no longer applies
and a new definition of humanism in a post-colonial context is required, the
polysemic dimensions of reparation take ethical, political and, yes, aesthetic
turns. In one of the texts you will find quoted in the archive pages, Achille
Mbembe writes: “Restitution and reparation therefore lie at the very heart
of a possible construction of a shared consciousness of the world, that is to
say the accomplishment of universal justice. The concepts of both restitution
and reparation are founded on the idea that there is an intrinsic part
of humanity under the protection of every human being. This irreducible
part lies in every one of us. It enables us to be objectively different, yet the
. Indeed, because reparation, be it material or immaterial, challenges
the most individual and the most universal simultaneously, it is a
choice approach for an artist such as Kader Attia.
Another major specificity in reparation is its unique relationship to time.
Any repair involves a link between the past, history (individual and/or collective)
and the present. Any repair is a contemporary reading/writing of
history. In this sense, a repair is the past reincarnated and offers a chance
to rebuild foundational narratives. Repair is therefore the here-and-now of
a storytelling gesture that recounts history. Arthur Danto wrote that one of
the characteristics - and perhaps opportunities - of contemporary artists is their access to the past, which they can grasp as they please since the
course of things no longer obliges them to follow the dictates of novelty,
progress or manifestos, as was the case for the modernists (4)
. Kader Attia
takes full hold of this opportunity in this book, just as he does in his work in
addresses the different aspects of reparation/reappropriation that
operate in Kader Attia's artistic research, but it is also an act of repair in
itself. It manifests the plasticity of the world and speaks to our present,
to place, to the responsibility we can create foundations for and even vindicate,
especially now, through a historical conscience and the need for
transdisciplinarity and dialogue. This publication is two years in the making,
and stands now as a direct invitation for discussion and reflection, a call
addressed personally to you.
(1) See photo p.73.
(2) Oswald de Andrade, “Manifesto Antropófago”
in Revista de Antropofagia, 1928.
(3) Achille Mbembe, Critique de la Raison Nègre
, éditions La Découverte, 2013. Cf. p.82 of
(4) Arthur Danto, After the End of Art. Contemporary Art and the Pale of History