Waiting for Omar Gatlato: Introduction



mythology. Waiting for Omar Gatlato is also the title of this volume, which anthologizes new translations of texts that flesh out the complexity of the Algerian and Franco-Algerian artistic contexts. Both the exhibition and this volume respond to the impossibility of representing Algeria with the conviction that is necessary to face the task as an impossibility and to act in spite of that fact. Why? Because the attempt at perception across difference is the ground for politics, here defined as a contestation of how power is organized. Without resolving any of the contradictions involved in such an attempt, “Waiting for Omar Gatlato” proposes that the decolonization of art requires an effort to perceive Algeria and places with similar histories of liberation. Émilie Goudal has referred to a similar idea in her essay in this volume as the effort to think “visuality in Algeria through the prism of an aesthesis of emancipation.” 5 The curatorial responsibility entailed by such a notion means directing resources, organizing exhibitions and printed matter, and drawing public attention to artwork related to postcolonial contexts, of which Algeria is an example, and especially to artists and their work that respond with subtlety and sociocultural sensitivity to the contradictions that structure it. Waiting for Omar Gatlato is a cacophonous project, intuitively pursued, and based on relationships. Guided by an imperative to privilege long discussions with artists and writers over the presentation of any single authored idea about Algeria or its diaspora, it is presented without absolute justification. Rather than tie the selected artworks together into a unified picture with the authority of the curatorial text, an open-ended analysis of every artist’s work is included in this volume. These texts are conceived as an extension of the curatorial framework in the sense that they constitute a record of what I have been able to perceive through discussion and negotiation with each artist. They follow the epigraph’s imperative to space thinking out in the world , in Glissant’s sense. They honor the artists’ varied poetics and the risk of thought that is realized in each artwork. To make decolonial exhibitions is, necessarily, an exercise in trying to unknow the order of the world. This means avowing the impossibility of providing a coherent vision of the effect Algeria has on the imaginations of artists who belong to it. I urge readers and viewers to relinquish their desire to know, in order to find some other mode of encounter with the art and writing presented. Waiting for Omar Gatlato responds specifically to the visual and imaginative obscurity that blankets Algeria, a phenomenon that historian Benjamin Stora has linked to collective amnesia born of trauma in his work on the both the War of Liberation and the Black Decade. 6 The reasons for Algeria’s lack of artistic representation at the international level, even in comparison to its Maghrebi neighbor Morocco, are complex: 130 years of settler colonialism by the French engendered both a robust literary and artistic legacy in its *

5  Émilie Goudal, “Frantz Fanon, an Icon? Thoughts to See: Fanon’s Algeria in the Visual Arts,” page 104 in this volume.

6  Benjamin Stora, La gangrène et l’óubli. La mémoire de la guerre d’álgérie (Paris: La Decouverte, 1991), and Benjamin Stora, La Guerre Invisible: Algérie, Années 90 (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2001). The War of Liberation was waged primarily between the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) and the French military between 1954 and 1962, ending with the signing of the Evian Accords. For a canonical account of this conflict see Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954–1962 (New York: New York Review Books, 2006). The Black Decade, which is the preferred term in Algeria, rather than the Algerian civil war, was an armed party government and various Islamic militias which began in 1991 and continued at various intensities through the early 2000s. See Martin Evans and John Phillips, Algeria: Anger of the Dispossessed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007). For an in-depth study of this conflict, see Luis Martínez, The Algerian Civil War, 1990–1998 (New York: Columbia University Press / Centre d’etudes et de recherches internationales, 2000). conflict between an FLN-backed single

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