Artist features

Adel Abdessemed

Adel Abdessemed tells us visually, with maturity and the necessary violence, that his proud and upright cultural universe is an alternative to the current trend of standardisation.

All images Courtesy by the artist and Dvir Gallery

A French artist of Berber origin, Adel Abdessemed was born in Constantine, Algeria in 1971. He lives and works in Paris, France.

Speaking of his childhood, the artist fondly recalls the silent, rough landscapes of the Aurès mountains: ‘dry, full of scars: the land of the Berber Numidians.’ The third of five children, Abdessemed grew up and began his studies in Batna, Algeria. At sixteen, he was the youngest in his intake at the École régionale des beaux-arts de Batna. The artist remembers his school as a haven, a space to create and to run free; something which ended abruptly with the arrival of Arabisation in Algeria. He saw the mandated imposition of the Arabic language and customs upon his community, and the ensuing suffocation of the Berber identity and vernacular. Expression, he notes, was a rare good.

Against this background of cultural censorship, Abdessemed went on to attend the École supérieure des beaux-arts in Algiers, a city where he discovered Raï music, literature, alcohol and nightlife; in spite of the curfew and the violence which pervaded the city. Faced daily with news of student executions, attacks and political assassinations, life as an artist became untenable. The murder by Islamists of Ahmed Asselah, director of the Beaux-Arts, plus his twenty-two-year-old son, left an indelible mark on Abdessemed. So frequent were the attempts on his own life, the artist found himself unable to stay more than three nights in the same place. He left Algeria for France in 1994.

France was to represent a kind of second birth for the artist, who often describes his ‘roots’ as being in Algeria, and his ‘crops’ in France. It was here that he was able to truly develop his art, uncensored. Having enrolled at the École nationale des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Abdessemed expanded his use of materials beyond traditional media, he explored the possibilities of video and of collaborating with a community of artists. After meeting his wife, Julie, everything felt possible. The artist and his family have since lived in London, New York, Berlin and Paris, where they are currently based.

out now

Tique | publication on contemporary art #3: Six Questions