/A.R.I.A/ is a new Algiers-based artist-in-residence programme conceived by artist Zineb Sedira. Stephanie Sykes had the opportunity to learn more about this nascent programme, and how debut residency participant Nicene Kossentini is approaching her time in Algeria.
Stephanie Sykes in conversation with Yasmina Reggad, /A.R.I.A/ Coordinator
Stephanie Sykes: How were Nicene Kossentini and Alfredo Jaar selected as the first artists to participate in the residency? Was there an application process, and if so, do you expect a similar process for 2013?
Yasmina Reggad: During the pilot phase of the residency, we selected two artists based on their interest in making future work in or about Algeria. The relevance of their practices to the local community was also a key deciding factor. This ensures that our international artists-in-residence exchange with the local community and fully benefit from their residency.
Additionally, we partnered with ArtSchool Palestine and UNESCO Office Ramallah to select a visual artist working and living in Gaza through a call for application. The call for submission for artists based in Gaza can be found here.
Regarding next year, we are vaguely thinking about the same process, but we are also thinking about calling a board to nominate people according to the same criteria.
We are very keen to engage with artists from the Maghreb and to facilitate exchange, so there will always be one artist from a neighbouring country. The other guest artists will come from the rest of the world.
SS: Can you elaborate on the collaboration with ArtSchool Palestine?
YR: We partnered with ArtSchool Palestine as a host institution for their residency programme. ASP has been engaging with several other residency programmes in the MENA region (including the Townhouse Gallery in Egypt), and we are delighted that they thought about us to host an artist working and living in Gaza. It is such an amazing opportunity for both Algerians and Palestinians to connect through this programme.
SS: What are the expected outcomes, if any, for the residency? Does the residency culminate with some sort of exhibition, and if not, do you plan to host future exhibitions?
- To support the development of the contemporary art scene in Algeria through international cross-cultural exchange and collaboration
- To create a pilot-year of bespoke artist residencies
- To invite artists from the Maghreb and beyond to research and/or develop ideas in relation to Algeria and its history
- To promote creative dialogues via salons, public events and participatory activities in Algiers in collaboration with local partners such as fine art academies, galleries and museums
- To provide space for (inter)action for both local and international artists as a way of expanding artistic practices
- We also want to contribute the international discussions and research around residencies.
We do have objectives, but we also have plenty of questions that have informed and are still informing the development of /A.R.I.A/: are residencies an appropriate response to the lack of visibility of the art community from a country underrepresented in the international art world? Do residencies help nurture a local art scene? What role will the guest artist play?
You can also find more information our website.
Stephanie Sykes in conversation with Nicene Kossentini
SS: Have you spent much time in Algiers before, and how does that inform your expectations for the residency?
Nicene Kossentini: I went to Algiers for the first time in 2008. But it was a short stay. This first visit was, for me, like a return to a place I already knew by the imaginary. When I was a kid, my grandfather told me about Algeria as the place of origin from which came my old grandfathers who never returned. And although he himself never returned to Algeria, he described the country through images he imagined or maybe even fragments of these images were transmitted from generation to generation to keep in mind this place of origin. So I went to Algeria for the first time with all these fragmented images.
SS: What do you hope to achieve through this month-long residency? While you will certainly be working on a new photography series, do you hope to finish this by the time you return to Tunis, or are you using the residency as an opportunity to think through your project without the pressures of an expected outcome?
NK: When Zineb Sedira invited me to /A.R.I.A/’s residency, she asked me to think about a project related to the place of the residency. So before coming to Algiers, I had already written the project and I knew how I would proceed in the realization of my photography project here. I started the residency a few days ago and I already started working on my project that excites me a lot. Every meeting I am doing here is related to my project, this is why I would hope to finish working in the project by the end of my stay here.
SS: What does this programme mean for artists living and working in the region, and for the cultural identity of Algiers?
NK: We know that residency programmes outside the Middle East are very important and rewarding for artists living and working in the region by allowing them to open up new forms of thought and creation. But, in my opinion, I believe that exchanges and connections between artists from the same region are more important in terms of thinking together about the complex relationships that often intersect. Concerning more specifically the Maghreb, we note that despite the geographical proximity of these countries, there is a misunderstanding of the art scenes between them, and there are rarely cultural exchanges or encounters. That’s why I consider this residency programme in Algiers not only as a breach to enter the intimacy of this city closed for nearly two decades, but also as a place full of memories that allows artists from the region to find common points of reference.
Nicene Kossentini studied in the Academy of Fine Arts in Tunis, at the Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg and at the Sorbonne University in Paris. During the first edition of the International Digital Media in France, she interned at the Studio National des Arts Contemporains Le Fresnoy and at l’École de l’Image Les Gobelins. She is assistant professor of experimental cinema at the University of Tunis.
Stephanie Sykes is a writer and arts professional based in Los Angeles. She is has worked for a number of cultural organisations, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Art Dubai, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. She is the Los Angeles Contributing Editor for Harper’s Bazaar Art and writes regularly about contemporary art and culture for outlets such as LACMA Unframed, Contemporary Practices, Artco, Vision and Upward Curve. She holds an MFA Curating from Goldsmiths College, University of London and a BA from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.