Waiting for Omar Gatlato: Introduction



they study in Algiers, while traveling to Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, or Alicante for artist residencies. In other words, they breach any dyadic relationship to empire. Nadira Laggoune-Aklouche, curator and director of the National Public Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMA) describes this generational notion as one that “provokes people’s awareness, allowing society to take stock of its own potential, to situate itself in its own era and everyday context, connected to its origins, its reality, its present and future.” 8 This is the Algeria of Picturie générale, three large-scale exhibitions of contemporary art, largely organized by Mourad Krinah and jointly initiated with Djamel Agagnia and Sofiane Zouggar in 2013 at Artissimo, in 2014 at La Bagnoire, and in 2016 at Volta, all in Algiers. Picturie générale is widely recognized as a phenomenon that made an artistic counter-current visible both in Algiers and internationally, one built by artists without asking for permission or official support. Picturie générale is symptomatic of the broader claim for visibility and an appropriation of public space by artists that has been growing for years. It emerged from an artist’s collective called Box24, founded in December 2008 and named after a room in the École supérieure des beaux-arts d’Alger that a group of students had taken over as a project space. Soon to open a new venue in downtown Algiers, Box24 is run today by Walid Aïdoud as a residency and project space. A strong pedagogical engagement and a commitment to working collectively runs through these kinds of initiatives in Algeria, which is partly the result of a society governed by socialist principles for decades. Rather than stay in the center of Algiers among a small group of artists, for example, since 2009, Box24 has partnered with cultural organizations in the Western Sahara to create the ARTifariti festival, which launches an open call to make work and teach art in the Western Sahara resettlement camps in solidarity with the Sahrawi people’s struggle for sovereignty. 9 Writing in 1961, in the essay “On National Culture,” included in The Wretched of the Earth , Frantz Fanon argues that “the native intellectual who wishes to create an authentic work of art must realize that the truths of a nation are in the first place its realities. He must go on until he has found the seething pot out of which the learning of the future will emerge.” 10 This generation of artists who belong to Algeria, like the characters depicted in Omar Gatlato , are ready to follow Fanon’s injunction. They have let go of the astonishment and the indulgent joy that Algeria and its artists exist , in a basic sense.

8  Nadira Laggoune- Aklouche, “ L’art, ici et maintenant ,” in the exhibition catalogue for Picturie g n rale II , held at La Bagnoire, Algiers, March

2014 (Algiers: Barzakh, 2014), n.p. Translation mine.

9  I am grateful to Walid Aïdoud for laying out the relationships between these structures, and though the collectivity of these endeavors is paramount to their impact, it must also be said that they exist because of his commitment to them. 10  Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth , trans. Constance Farrington (London: Penguin Classics, 2001), 224.


When I asked curator Zahia Rahmani to consider contributing to this book on the basis of her own remarkable curatorial achievements in the field of Algerian histories of representation, she responded that perhaps the best thing would be to make an exhibition about the impossibility of Algerian art. Rahmani believed that this project’s

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