Amina Menia’s work questions the relation between architectural and historical spaces, and challenges conventional notions around the exhibition space. Her artworks are a crossovers of sculptures and installations that trigger an interaction of viewers and passersby with socio-spatial configurations.
I use the city, urbanity, and the architectural language as my own language.
A transcript of this audio recording is available for download.
THE CHRYSANTHEMUMS PROJECT, 2009–
The Chrysanthemums Project (2009–ongoing) comprises photographs of commemoration stelae, erected to inaugurate the construction of bridges or public buildings, and of monuments to the martyrs of the War of Liberation that dot the landscape of Algeria’s coastline. Amina Menia photographs the monuments in straightforward documentary style and reproduces them as close to life-size as possible, so that the viewer might be confronted by them as public objects. In one version of the work, she mounted the photographs on a wooden frame, the self-consciously sham version of a sham monument. Of her intention, she writes: “I want to document public commissions that carry a political ambition or are willed by a community. What is this ‘public’ art in a country which is so badly lacking in democracy? What is the intention of these popular expressions? What are the aesthetic references of the artists who made them?... I am frustrated that Algerian art in the public sphere limits itself almost exclusively to bitter subjects from the past.”
Amina Menia. From the series Chrysanthèmes, 2009–ongoing. Courtesy of the artist.
Amina Menia. From the series Chrysanthèmes, 2009–ongoing. Chromogenic print; 65 3/4 x 80 5/16 in. (167 x 204 cm). Courtesy of the artist.
Amina Menia. From the series Chrysanthèmes, 2009–ongoing. Chromogenic print; 88 9/16 x 57 7/8 in. (225 x 147 cm). Courtesy of the artist.
Installation view of "The Chrysanthemum Project" by Amina Menia from the exhibition “Waiting for Omar Gatlato" on view at the Wallach Art Gallery, October 2019 - March 2020. Photo by Emile Askey
A translation of the inscription on the monument pictured in the first image above is available for download.
The French expression inaugurer les chrysanthèmes (to inaugurate chrysanthemums) is used to describe the actions of an official who acts without real power, a person who represents a political body, such as a government, but who is not vested with the power to make consequential decisions. It was first used by Charles de Gaulle in 1965 during a press conference at the Élysée Palace. Speaking of himself in the third person, he remarked: “Besides, who has ever believed that General de Gaulle, having been summoned to the bar, should have been content to inaugurate chrysanthemums... ?”
De Gaulle was called back to power more than a decade after he retired to lead France into its fifth republic in 1958. He presided over the end of the Algerian War and, despite his protestations to the contrary, he did inaugurate the chrysanthemums. He represented the French in Algeria at a moment when the French had lost their authority to rule. Today in Algeria the proverb has come to describe the act of commemorating an unrealized ambition. It is in this sense that Menia borrows it as the title for her series of photographs. The Chrysanthemums Project was born of frustration, but is nevertheless an homage to popular aesthetics. The monuments are often abandoned, worn down, half erased either by time or by vandalism perpetrated “when expectation starts to rot,” in the artist’s words. The work touches on the traces of memory in a context that remembers some events, like the victims of the War of Liberation, with a rigid, authoritarian determination, while this single-mindedness offers little place for historical nuance. The difficulty of these monuments is that if the building or bridge are not constructed, if the liberation for which the dead are remembered is only partially achieved, stony symbolism cannot adapt or evolve. The memorial stays fixed, stuck in a state of waiting for the only outcome for which it is prepared to stand.
All images of artworks are copyrighted by and presented courtesy of the artist. The portrait of Amina Menia is copyrighted by the photographer Antoine Aphesbero.