Two Algerian photographers with different perspectives and sensitivities addressed the issue of the psychological after-effects of violence against Algerian women.
Indeed, it is because violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights abuses in Algeria that the two photographers Sonia Merabet and Abdo Shanan are unveiling their artistic project until 8 March at the brand new Rhizome art space in Algiers.
This exhibition is curated by Myriam Amroun and Walid Aidoud, developed within the framework of the « Remchet 3in » project, in partnership with Dima Cinéma. The theme chosen this time by Rhizome is « Untolde ».
As the organisers point out in the presentation text, « an approach that is representative of the violence suffered and still suffered by thousands of women in Algeria and elsewhere. Crossed illustrations, of processes of psychic de-configuration, or of the hauntings evoked by the perception of a shadow, even that of oneself ».
The first stop on this opening day, which took place on 6 February, leads us to discover the photography exhibition of the young designer Sonia Merabet, entitled « Séquelles bleues ». An artistic project which lasted two months and which lifts the veil on the psychological after-effects of women.
The photographer specifies that she has always wanted to do something for these oppressed women but that it was not easy. « I wanted, » she says, « to perhaps go to the other side to deceive people. When we talk about this theme, we imagine women or girls being beaten with bruises on their bodies. We go to see the physical violence, whereas I wanted to talk about the psychological after-effects. In my work, I have highlighted the result of this violence. I didn’t want to take pictures of the violence but what remains afterwards through the face. »
The play of light and shadow
Sonia Merabet exhibits eight life-size photographs in which two colours dominate: red and blue. She has chosen to work with light and shadow. All of the photographs are, of course, swept by blue light, but there is a singular way of making these blue psychological after-effects felt. One and the same model evolves from one visual to another to come and tell the story of the inner evil that gnaws at this woman on a daily basis. As the feelings of these sufferings are often repressed, the unsaid is in the spotlight.
The model can be seen in given situations. Whether from behind or in profile with an expressive face, most often hidden by her thick black hair, this woman’s body is in constant motion. One can tell by the watermark that she wants to free herself from a weight to move forward, but these after-effects are, alas, always omnipresent.
Difficult to forget them or to erase them forever from memory. For freelance photographer Sonia Merabet, « the shadow follows us everywhere like these psychological after-effects. We can heal from blows or anything else, but not from a psychological illness that will follow us for a long time. Even if it is emotional violence, we don’t really see it. There is always psychological abuse. We don’t see it, but we feel it. It is like a burden that the victim will carry with her ». The photographer, who has been exhibiting frequently since 2015, says that photography has always been part of her life.
It is a tool that has complemented her side as a stylist. « It started, » she says, « very early on. There is always a photographer in a family who always takes the pictures, even at weddings. I’ve always been that person. I think I got it from my father. He used to take a lot of pictures, because he himself had silver reflexes. Afterwards, it was me who took the pictures. In the beginning we only had small compact cameras until one day I never stopped. Photography has always been there and it has always been part of my life ».
When asked who her favourite photographer is, she quotes contemporary American photographer Saul Leiter, one of the pioneers of colour photography. She adds that she also appreciates all the photographers who enjoy doing self-portraits. In addition to photography, the artist also does video, TV and editing. She also works in film as a stylist.
Bridge between the traumatised person and the public
For his part, the trained engineer and photographer Abdo Shanan presents his very first installation on the theme of « Memory ». A series of 96 photos based on women’s testimonies is shown at different projection rates. The photographer Abdo Shanan confides that it all began with the reading of the « white book » of the Wassila Network where women’s testimonies are honoured.
The chaotic stories of ten women are presented, including those of Houda, Wassila, Bachira and Louban, among others. Thus, the selection was made on the basis of the stories read. During the reading, Abdo Shanan realizes that words and scenes are often repeated.
We talk about these poignant tales of stairs, displacement, kidnapping or even houses where the women were kidnapped. These describe the house and the situation in the house. These are women who refuse to forget this situation. It is a sharp moment in their lives. The stories in question take place during the period of terrorism in Algeria or in France.
This specialist in photography exhibitions says that through this artistic project carried out between Algiers and Oran, he has realised how violent memories and remembrance are, « especially since we always have triggering elements. I thought about triggers, memory and pain. We who are spectators think that because the traumatic event has passed that it’s over, we forget. But I don’t think that for them it is like that. I didn’t want to immortalise this pain. They are not my memories but other people’s memories. Instead, I tried to build a bridge between the traumatised person and the general public, » he says. It should be noted that the exhibition in question can be seen until March 8 from Saturday to Thursday from 10 am to 6 pm.