Replica of an Algerian City, Made of Couscous: Now on Display at The Guggenheim


If you head over to The Guggen­heim in New York City, you’re bound to spend time immers­ing your­self in the Moholy-Nagy exhib­it that’s now on dis­play. It’s well worth your time. You can also take a side trip through a small­er exhi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing the work of Mid­dle East­ern and North African artists. And there you’ll dis­cov­er the work of Kad­er Attia, a French-Alger­ian artist whose work “reflects on the impact of West­ern soci­eties on their for­mer colo­nial coun­ter­parts.” Above, we have Atti­a’s repli­ca of an Alger­ian city (Ghardaïa) made out of cous­cous. The Tate explains the con­cep­tu­al thrust of the piece as fol­lows:

The instal­la­tion presents a mod­el of the Alger­ian town Ghardaïa made from cous cous, shown along­side pho­tographs of the Swiss-born archi­tect Le Cor­busier and the French archi­tect Fer­nand Pouil­lon, and a print of the UNESCO dec­la­ra­tion that the town is a World Her­itage site. Dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Ghardaïa was colonised by France, but the build­ings were not altered dur­ing this peri­od and remain char­ac­ter­is­tic of Moz­abite archi­tec­ture. Le Cor­busier vis­it­ed Ghardaïa in 1931, just three years after becom­ing a French cit­i­zen, and made sketch­es of the build­ings. These strong­ly resem­ble the style of mod­ernist archi­tec­ture he sub­se­quent­ly espoused in his trea­tise on urban plan­ning, La cité radieuse.

That a not­ed French archi­tect should take inspi­ra­tion from an Alger­ian town may not seem sig­nif­i­cant, how­ev­er, as Attia notes, ‘archi­tec­ture has first to do with pol­i­tics, with the polit­i­cal order.’ As Attia is a child of Alger­ian immi­grants and grew up part­ly in a Parisian ban­lieue, this state­ment seems par­tic­u­lar­ly res­o­nant. The use of cous cous as the mate­r­i­al to ‘build’ the mod­el is appro­pri­ate as it will pro­vide an approx­i­ma­tion of the town’s decay over time through­out the exhi­bi­tion, while rep­re­sent­ing one of the region’s most pop­u­lar foods – now a sta­ple of Euro­pean cui­sine.

By repli­cat­ing the town as an archi­tects’ mod­el in this way Attia shows the impact of his native cul­ture, which had oper­at­ed as a non-pow­er­ful host to colo­nial France, on their old colonis­ers, who went on to play host to the artist and his fam­i­ly. As well as high­light­ing the cul­tur­al impact of the colonised onto the colonis­er, revers­ing the nor­mal­ly report­ed direc­tion of influ­ence, this also reveals the com­plex­i­ty of hos­pi­tal­i­ty between peo­ple and nations which often relates to dis­pos­ses­sion and re-appro­pri­a­tion…

Atti­a’s cous­cous instal­la­tion is also on dis­play at The Tate. If you’re in Lon­don, pay them a vis­it.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon. If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Guggen­heim Puts Online 1600 Great Works of Mod­ern Art from 575 Artists

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 210,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces Includ­ed

The Nation­al Gallery Makes 25,000 Images of Art­work Freely Avail­able Online

Down­load 448 Free Art Books from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.