H U D A T A K R I T I
Clarity Is The Closest Wound To The Sun
June 22 – August 25, 2023
July 31 – August 15, 2023
by appointment only
We are very pleased to announce the first solo exhibition of Syrian artist Huda Takriti at our Vienna gallery. Titled Clarity Is the Closest Wound to the Sun, a series of five work groups are shown that deal with the history of colonialism and its reception in Western archives and on the internet.
Between Memory and Opacity: (Post)colonial Archives and Mediated Images
The “entrance” to the exhibition probably looks familiar: the postcard motif of a landscape with palm trees, greatly enlarged and affixed to the wall like wallpaper. The large image refers to the fashion for exoticizing interiors, which can presumably be traced back to the early colonial era and also pops up again and again today.
Here, however, the motif is not merely a backdrop but frames the first photograph in Huda Takriti’s series Against Nostalgia. In nine photographs, the artist processes a collection of postcards with “orientalist” views of Algeria, which she found in the course of her research and bought at auction on eBay. They are indications of a postcolonial nostalgia for the colonial era, as traded on Instagram and through the Facebook accounts of the Pieds-Noirs, the former French settlers in Algeria, many of whom went back to France after the country’s declaration of independence. Depictions of the “former homeland”—sometimes with nostalgic titles such as “Scenes from the Orient” or “Back to Algeria”—alternate with exoticizing and sexualized depictions of women, recreated in photo studios to fit the white, European fantasies of the colonialists.
Translated into the photo series, these postcards become part of an imaginary archive. In the images, the hands of the archivist in the white gloves can be seen covering parts of the postcards. They build a visual barrier between the subject and the camera/viewer to make accessibility difficult and to raise questions concerning the viewer’s gaze and intentions. How can a colonial, exploitative gaze precisely not be duplicated by exhibiting the motif? At the same time, the white gloves are the prominent signature of the archive, signaling the neat storage of individual pieces and their importance for collective memory. But are they really? Here, they remain signs of a performance of archival activity, because almost all the archives that Takriti would actually need for this research are basically inaccessible to her—due to visa restrictions, copyright issues, or due to a colonial past that the institutions of the present still do not know how to deal with. Thus, the artist performs the function of archiving through this alphabet of gestures of hands that spread, show, and cover at the same time.
The strategies that Takriti employs in the works of the exhibition build on oppositions: on the confrontation of different ideologies in image-text or text-text collages, on the tension between veiling and showing, and on the comparison between archival image and medially transformed and edited image.
In the collages of Fluid Grounds, for example, she uses propaganda posters of the Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS), which was founded in 1961 to fight Algerian independence and also opposed the increasingly liberal French state. These posters are shown in the context of Facebook groups, where videos of the reconquest of Algeria also circulate, set to music with the nationalist “Chant des Africains” of the former colonial power. Takriti juxtaposes this with quotes from Frantz Fanon’s Les Damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth, 1962), which eerily anticipate some of the images circulating on the web.
“The afterlife of slavery is not only a political and social problem but an aesthetic one as well,” writes literary scholar and author Saidiya Hartman. “Slavery” can be replaced here by “colonialism.”
Huda Takriti’s works also deal with the question of the representation of colonial crimes and their “return,” disguised as a longing for the “old homeland” in the virtual space of social media. Thus, she constantly asks what can and should be shown, and likewise lends the images as well as the represented the possibility of opacity, of non-transparency, whereby precisely not everything can and should be seen.
This is particularly condensed in the video, which bears the same title as the exhibition. In her reading of the autobiography Inside the Battle of Algiers by Zohra Drif—one of the female freedom fighters of the National Liberation Front of Algeria (FLN) who organized the militant wing of the movement in the Casbah of Algiers for two years—Huda Takriti comes across an aphorism quoted by the narrator from the poet and freedom fighter of the French Resistance, René Char. It is part of Char’s Hypnos (in the English translation; Feuillets d’Hypnos in the original), a collection of fragments, part diary entries, part lyrical reflections on the experience.
Hypnos, the god of sleep, and his attributes become the symbol of collective amnesia for Takriti in the video when it comes to the merits of women in the struggle for freedom. And so, she intercuts the media images—those of Gillo Pontecorvo’s famous 1966 film The Battle of Algiers and its depiction of women as submissive recipients of orders—with archival footage that tells a different story, as well as with Char’s poetic texts.
With the video and the other elements of the exhibition, the artist creates a resonant space that is about the intertwining of temporal levels, “where the past, the present, and the future are not discrete and cut off from one another,” to speak once again with Hartman. It is a matter of locating oneself in it and perhaps asking with René Char: “Are we doomed just to be at the beginning of the truth?”