/A.R.I.A/ (Artist Residency in Algiers)
'I love Algeria, its people, the landscape, the culture, the sense of humour, and its generosity … I always wanted to share these feelings with people I know and love … I find it so fulfilling to work on such a meaningful project which promotes further exchanges between the Algerian art scene,
the neighbouring countries and beyond'.
- Zineb Sedira, founder of /A.R.I.A/ (Artist Residency in Algiers).
It was through a number of conversations with international artists in the last few years that the artist Zineb Sedira – who was born in France to Algerian parents – came to identify an interest in Algerian history and culture but at the same time a lack of knowledge and accessibility to the country. After years of thinking and planning a platform to produce and exhibit art in Algeria, a year of pilot residencies has been launched to encourage cross-cultural exchange and collaboration between the North African country and the rest of the world.
As well as a desire to promote and develop contemporary artistic practices in Algeria, the /A.R.I.A/ residencies aim to provide a space for interaction between local and international practitioners, and to research and develop ideas related to the country and the wider region. This will be achieved, according to Sedira, through a series of public events, panels and discussions, as well as through the practical framework of the residencies themselves.
As an artist, Sedira, who has exhibited her work internationally as well as in Algeria, understands the importance of providing opportunities for both emerging and experienced artists to expand their production within and beyond their own countries and regions. With this in mind, these bespoke art residencies aspire to create an environment of support and creativity for artists from the Maghreb and elsewhere.
Moving beyond the widely-held, though understandable, view of Algeria's contemporary history as one steeped in unrest and civil war, the /A.R.I.A/ programme invites participants to forge new links and connections with local communities in order to establish a vibrant network of people dedicated to increasing the visibility of contemporary Algerian life, in all its complexities. In Sedira's words, this project has what it takes to 'break the image of Algeria as a 'difficult' and 'impenetrable' country'.
In its inaugural year, /A.R.I.A/ will host two artists chosen for their interest in making work in or about Algeria. Photographer and video artist Nicène Kossentini was the first of these, whose placement extended from May to June 2012. Though of Tunisian origin, Kossentini's surname refers to the Algerian city of Constantine and she says she has always felt 'other invisible links' binding her to Algeria. Her residency focused on the slippery notions of identity and genealogy, explored through portrait photographs of Algerian citizens. Speaking about her project, Kossentini said that it wasn't always easy to find subjects willing to be photographed. Nevertheless, she says she has been 'absolutely absorbed by Algiers and moved by all the little hidden stories uncovered here'. The second artist to take up residency in November 2012 will be Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar.
/A.R.I.A/ has also partnered with Art School Palestine and UNESCO in Ramallah to support the work of an artist in Gaza, details of which are to be announced soon.