Over the past few years, North Africans have become used to their region and people, being recognized in the West for the ‘wrong’ reasons. As such, they might see such exhibitions as opportunities for outsiders to rediscover how vibrant, colourful, diverse, young, revolutionary and highly creative North African culture is.
Andy Warhol said “Once you GOT pop, you could never see a sign the same way again and one you once you thought pop, you could never see America the same way again.” Well, once you see ‘Pop Art from North Africa’, you will perhaps never see North Africa — or, indeed, Africa itself— the same way again.
The curators of the exhibition
Najlaa El-Ageli is originally from Libya. She is a qualified British architect (AA Dip). Due to a deep lifelong passion for the arts, in 2012 she co-founded Noon Arts, a small private foundation that aimed to spot, nurture and support Libyan artists who were finally free from the former oppressive regime to be able to showcase and celebrate their talents.
Toufik Douib is an independent events director and curator, he born and bred in Algeria, where he studied at the Junior Conservatory of Art and later worked at the Ministry of Culture. After moving to London in 2009, he became more involved in global intercultural understanding and committed to the question of the Algerian and Maghreb identity in art.
The ‘Maghrebisation’ of the West
The show will put together for the first time under the P21 Gallery roof, the exciting artworks of fifteen creative individuals from North Africa who are all inspired by the Pop Art movement. Every country in the region will be represented, including artists from: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well living in Europe.
In the style of one of the 20th century’s most influential movements that was spearheaded by Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton in 1950s Britain, the combined works tackle the social, political and cultural environments unique to North Africa.
Through paintings, digitally manipulated images, animation, music and street art, the show will take the audience on a voyage through urban landscapes, exploring the human condition and indicating the tortuous clash between tradition and modernity, in homage to the pioneers of the Western pop art, such as Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
The engaging display will also be reflecting on how the artists become public commentators in their society in the quest to explore a local identity within the context of a globalised consumerist world. It will encompass the critical inter- play between Western exported products and how they are consumed in North Africa; and, especially, in the use of the international icons that come to hold new value and meaning when manifested in a different environment.
Addressing the theme of the ‘Maghrebisation’ of Western commercial brands, for example, there is an implicit critique of the supposed ‘American-Western’ superiority. One sees however that the artists also utilise the public and common symbols, images and narratives that are more specific to the North African region and considering the powerful role that they play in the collective Maghreb psyche.
Douib: “In the west, pop culture has quickly become a phenomenon, beginning with re-appropriation and reinvention and then evolving into an industry for dreams and evasion. Pop art is constantly evolving in how it communicates with the masses and engages with minorities. Similarly, pop art in North Africa helps creatives to look at the relationship between hypermodernity and tradition.
From tale characters to showbiz celebrities or blockbuster superheroes to historical gurus, what is extraordinary in North African pop art is its ability to intertwine eclectic ingredients of culture, confirming both sense of belonging to common roots and openness to a universal movement. At a time of geopolitical challenges within and beyond the region, it is very exciting to showcase a unique representation of a united Maghreb.”
Providing a fresh new alternative perspective on North Africa and its visual culture for the British public, there will be also a parallel program of events taking place at the P21 Gallery. Soon to be announced, this will include panel discussions with some of the artists and the curators.
Artists of the exhibition
Mouad Aboulhana (Morocco), Alla Abudabbus (Libya), Rasha Amin (Egypt), Dhafer Ben Khalifa (Tunisia), Amel Benaoudia (Algeria), Walid Bouchouchi (Algeria), El3ou (Algeria), Malak Elghuel (Libya), Sarah Basma Harnafi (Morocco), Sarroura Libre (Tunisia), Meryem Meg (Algeria-Bulgaria), Ilyes Messaoudi (Tunisia), El-Moustach (Algeria), Qarm Qart (Italy-Egypt) and Sofiane Si Merabet (Algeria).