Moroccan-born and Paris-based multimedia artist mounir fatmi presents his first solo exhibition in South Africa, titled Suspect Language, at Goodman Gallery Cape Town in September.
mounir fatmi constructs visual spaces and linguistic games that aim to free the viewer from their preconceptions of politics and religion, and allow them to contemplate these and other subjects in new ways. His videos, installations, drawings, paintings and sculptures bring to light our doubts, fears and desires.
Suspect Language is an exhibition of recent work by mounir fatmi. Upon entering the gallery, the audience is confronted with Sleep Al Naim, a film projection in which a virtual, 3D image of Salman Rashdie, the English writer of Indian origin, is asleep. A fatwa was declared against Rushdie by the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, due to the perceived blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses, and the book was banned in most Arab countries. Inspired by Andy Warhol’s experimental film Sleep, the artist chose Rushdie as his main character, showing him asleep, as if in a state between life and death. This is the state that the artist seeks to convey in Suspect Language.
The artist uses censorship as a point of departure, raising doubt in the Quran’s ‘suraths’ (phrases) in In the Absence of Evidence to the Contrary, and writing his manifesto on horse-jumping poles in Obstacles, Coma, Warning.
mounir fatmi questions written text and its visual poetry, highlighting a paradox between its beauty and its violence, its meaning and its shape. In Kissing Circles, inspired by the Frederick Soddy poem The Kiss Precise, he uses coaxial antenna cable to interpret the solution to the Descartes Theorem, and asks: How we can come from a mathematics problem to a language, like a poem?
In Calligraphy of Fire, fatmi celebrates the beauty of calligraphy, and sees fire in the shape of the text, creating an association to a text that burns, that could be censored, but also to a text that has the potential to purify. The work is also a tribute to Brion Gysin, an artist of the Beat Generation who lived in Morocco and whose work was inspired by Arabic calligraphy.
The Game is a series of photographs taken from Francois Truffaut’s 1970 film L’Enfant Sauvage, in which a wild child is taught the rudiments of language through a game. The work is a reference to early anthropological ideas about otherness and the way the “savage” mind understands words and graphic representations, as well as a metaphor for France’s interest in the “other” during the colonial era. The doctor’s incessant note-taking represents the attempt to control, while the implicit violence in the series suggests the explicit violence of imposed authority. Language plays a crucial role in trying to unify doctor and subject, coloniser and colonised.
In Modern Time, A History of the Machine, circular calligraphies are suspended, reminiscent of a system of cogs or a gear mechanism. The title of the piece is inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s celebrated 1936 film, in which Chaplin plays a lowly worker on a factory production line. The modernity of the factory machines is evoked visually by a series of whirring cogs. The curves and arabesques of the calligraphy eclipse the meaning of the words, as if the message is disappearing into the engine of the machine. The words are reanimated in a purely visual way as circular abstract forms, reflecting the circular motion of the animation.
mounir fatmi was born in 1970 in Tangier, Morocco. Solo exhibitions of his work have been shown all over the world, and he has participated in numerous major group exhibitions – including, most recently, the 6th Quebec City Biennial and the 54th Venice Biennale. He lives and works between Paris and Tangier.
mounir fatmi was born in Tangiers, Morocco, in 1970. When he was four, his family moved to Casa-blanca. At the age of 17, he traveled to Rome where he studied at the free school of nude drawing and engraving at the Academy of Arts, and then at the Casablanca art school, and finally at the Rijksakad-emie in Amsterdam.
He spent most of his childhood at the flea market of Casabarata, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tangiers, where his mother sold children’s clothes. Such an environment produces vast amounts of waste and worn-out common use objects. The artist now considers this childhood to have been his first form of artistic education, and compares the flea market to a museum in ruin. This vision also serves as a metaphor and expresses the essential aspects of his work. Influenced by the idea of de-funct media and the collapse of the industrial and consumerist society, he develops a conception of the status of the work of art located somewhere between Archive and Archeology.
By using materials such as antenna cable, typewriters and VHS tapes, mounir fatmi elaborates an experimental archeology that questions the world and the role of the artist in a society in crisis. He twists its codes and precepts through the prism of a trinity comprising Architecture, Language and Machine. Thus, he questions the limits of memory, language and communication while reflecting upon these obsolescent materials and their uncertain future. mounir fatmi’s artistic research consists in a reflection upon the history of technology and its influence on popular culture. Consequently, one can also view mounir fatmi’s current works as future archives in the making. Though they represent key moments in our contemporary history, these technical materials also call into question the transmission of knowledge and the suggestive power of images and criticize the illusory mechanisms that bind us to technology and ideologies.
Since 2000, Mounir fatmi’s installations have been selected for several biennials, the 52nd and 57th Venice Biennales, the 8th Sharjah Biennale, the 5th and 7th Dakar Biennales, the 2nd Seville Biennale, the 5th Gwangju Biennale, the 10th Lyon Biennale, the 5th Auckland Triennial, the 10th and 11th Bamako Bien-nales, the 7th Shenzhen Architecture Biennale, the Setouchi Triennial and the Echigo-Tsumari Trienni-al in Japan. His work has been presented in numerous personal exhibits, at the Migros Museum, Zur-ich. MAMCO, Geneva. Picasso Museum La Guerre et la Paix, Vallauris. AK Bank Foundation, Istan-bul. Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf and at the Gothenburg Konsthall. He has also participated in several group exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Brooklyn Museum, New York. Palais de Tokyo, Paris. MAXXI, Rome. Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. MMOMA, Moscow. Mathaf, Doha, Hayward Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and at Nasher Mu-seum of Art, Durham.
He has received several prizes, including the Uriöt prize, Amsterdam, the Grand Prix Léopold Sédar Senghor at the 7th Dakar Biennale in 2006, as well as the Cairo Biennale Prize in 2010.