The Beauty of Repair
Kader Attia at the MMK in Frankfurt

“Show your wound because you must reveal the illness you want to heal.” Kader Attia would espouse this request made by Joseph Beuys. The Algerian-French artist is also interested in injuries and scars inscribed in individuals and societies, as well as in healing and “repair.” This is documented by his great exhibition Sacrifice and Harmony currently on view at the MMK in Frankfurt. But Attia, who is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, seems to be less of mystic and alchemist than Beuys. He focuses more on factors such as politics and history, on the power structures that have engendered the current state of the world.

The very first work of the exhibition confronts visitors directly with these power structures. In the central hall of the MMK, Attia, who grew up in the banlieues of Paris, installed an enterable metal corridor. Walking under the low, garbage-covered bars gives rise to an oppressive feeling. But for the Palestinians in Hebron, this is bitter everyday reality. This is how they protect themselves form the garbage that the Jewish settlers who live on the top floors throw down on them to drive them out of their apartments and businesses. Los de arriba y los de abajo (Those on Top and Those on the Bottom) makes the brutal division of a society palpable.

The corridor channels visitors into a video room showing interviews that Attia conducted with scientists and historians, as well as Imams and Priests. The talks revolve around reality and virtuality, religion and spirituality, around mental illnesses and Holocaust traumas, and above all around possibilities of healing. But different cultures take very different paths, which are colliding increasingly in our globalized world. Attia shows that everyone has his or her own reality – the psychoanalyst, the medical doctor, the shaman, the clergyman.

But they all agree on one thing: The repression of the past practiced so readily in the West does not contribute to healing. Attia’s installation J’accuse impressively shows that the spirits of the past return again and again. He borrowed the title from a feature film shot in 1938. In the movie, the director, Abel Gance, shows how soldiers who fell in World War I rise from their graves to warn coming generations about the perils of war. Among the actors are survivors of the bloody battles of Verdun, who show their wounds in the film: their brutally mutilated faces. An excerpt from J’accuse is shown on a large screen. A collection of wooden busts installed on rusty metal bases serves as the audience. The busts were sculpted by woodcarvers from Senegal. They were based on photographs of disfigured survivors of World War I. The sculptures invoke works by expressionist sculptors, whose formal vocabulary is indebted to African models.

“It’s very important to me that we really remember,” says the artist, who was born in 1970. “And the West has often made the historical mistake of trying to hide its wounds, its injuries, its scars, of not them at all any more.” As a result, repair in the West usually adheres to the ideal of perfection: It should be as invisible as possible, otherwise a broken object is simply replaced by a newly purchased one, and its history is simply disposed of. Attia is particularly interested in artifacts from ethnological collections. He often incorporates them in his works. This was the case with his highly acclaimed installation The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures shown at documenta 13 (2012). Scars and fractures, traces of time and history, remain visible in it.

Just how aesthetically appealing such fractures can be is demonstrated at the end of the exhibition by a globe made of shards of mirror glass stitched together with copper wire. The different-colored backs of the glass pieces form the outer skin. Only when one looks into this object does one see the mirroring surfaces – a glistening, seemingly infinite world of constantly changing light reflexes and reflections. Attia called the work Chaos + Repair = Universe, a work that began with destruction. Only through the process of composition can the world be experienced in all of its dimensions and beauty.

MMK Talk with Kader Attia and Gerhard Kubik
Tuesday, 10 May, 7 pm at the MMK 1
Kader Attia in conversation with the ethnologist Gerhard Kubik. Kubik is among the internationally most renowned name in the area of intracultural research on African culture.
The Talks are conducted in English. Free admission. Funded by Deutsche Bank Stiftung.

Kader Attia. Sacrifice and Harmony
Until 8/14/2016
Museum für Moderne Kunst - MMK 1, Frankfurt am Main