In 2015, La belle revue initiated our column “Global Terroir” with the desire to highlight the artistic scene of a foreign territory situated beyond the major capitals, to address the problematics specific to remote localities similar to that in which we find ourselves. An ambitious undertaking for such a limited amount of pages, yet a sincere one that led us to meeting and sharing experiences with art workers from Malmö, Porto, Bangkok, Cape Town, Beirut, Tirana and Lagos. Yet today, the mapping of an artistic scene resonates differently, and with the changing times, our columns are evolving as well. Thus, for this last “Global Terroir”, our focus has shifted from one city to two with the understanding that the notion of a territory expands beyond borders, and that a scene is often constructed and defined by the movements to, within and beyond these spaces.
If in France recent art events have highlighted the Algerian art scene and its diasporas–including En attendant Omar Gatlato (curated by Natasha Marie Llorens, Triangle-Astérides, 2021), Quelque part entre le silence et les parlers (curated by Florian Gaité, Maison des Arts Malakoff, 2021), Lydia Ourahmane, Barzakh (curated by Celine Kopp, Triangle-Astérides, 2021), and more recently the nomination of the first French artist of Algerian origin, Zineb Sedira, to represent France at the Venice Biennale in 2022– it seemed fitting to speak to cultural workers in and linked to Algeria for this final Global Terroir.
It is thus towards the cities of Algiers and Oran to which we have turned our attention. Cities approximately 400 kilometers apart with strikingly different histories of art, yet nevertheless both significant within a country that has suffered historical wounds resulting from years of French colonialism, followed by thirty years of liberation (from 1962) before the Black Decade (1991-2002) of the Algerian Civil War. Cities also on the coasts of the Mediterranean, a sea which nearly one million people in Algeria crossed to enter France between 1954 and 1962. The links to France are therefore evident, albeit complicated and painful, and tell of sociopolitical and post-colonial traumas questioned widely today.
Within postcolonial histories, certain words are resonate loudly: extraction, expulsion, displacement, fragmentation, and, finally, re/construction. The authors invited to contribute to this section each address such notions, telling, as a whole, various stories of how artists and art workers (re)construct and act within disarticulated ecosystems.
Artist Amina Menia leads us through the fragmented landscape of Algiers in a prose that bears witness to the need to sublimate obstacles by refusing to be subjected to them. The very structure of the text – divided into various stanzas – thus offers a view of several strata – artistic, political or historical – of the city and reveals the way the artist navigates between them. And although the artist travels outside her native city, this city remains with her, both in resonance as well as in opposition. It is thus a text that confirms that the personal is inherently political.
In her text “Operating in Algeria: a joyful schizophrenia”, Myriam Amroun (co-founder and artistic director of rhizome (Algiers), curator and cultural operator) reveals the extent to which perseverance is needed to navigate an unpredictable, changing and unreliable context. Myriam Amroun describes how the Black Decade affected culture, and how, from this difficult period, structures emerged and rebuilt their own modes of operation in response to fluctuating policies and lack of infrastructure. While she describes her experience as an art worker in Algiers, these shifting ways of functioning extend between the capital and Oran, and even beyond.
Although we initially looked to the capital, curator Natasha Marie Llorens decided to lead us into the artistic landscape of Oran, reminding us that focusing solely on the capital would surely be an error. The author tells us about the particularities of this effervescent city, highlighting its cultural richness in the years following Algeria's independence, and how this was continually interrupted by the exodus. Through a reading of works by Lydia Ourahmane and Sadek Rahim - artists who have respectively captured the turbulent spirit of Oran - Natasha Marie Llorens reveals the impact of the comings and goings of not only artists, but also inhabitants, on the city's artistic scene.
While this is the last Global Terroir, the voices of our comrades from other distant territories will nonetheless be found throughout the pages of each issue to come. A reflection thus of the cultural exchanges, the movement, the displacement, the new generations and the fluctuating politics that shape territories, places always subject to transformation.