June 2010, Mohamed Bourouissa @ Yossi Milo Gallery

Mohamed Bourouissa, Le téléphone, 2006
Digital C-Print
Copyright Mohamed Bourouissa
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Galeries Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris

Mohamed Bourouissa: Périphéries
Yossi Milo Gallery
525 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001
April 22 through June 19, 2010

In Périphéries, at Yossi Milo Gallery, Algerian-born Mohamed Bourouissa presents a series of large-scale photographs whose subject matter confronts the marginalized immigrant youth that live in the volatile banlieues of Paris. Produced during the period of 2005 to 2008, these works coincided with the aftermath of the 2005 riots in the eastern Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, sparking the civil unrest and escalating racial tension that spread throughout the urban centers of France. While each photograph presents a tense composition that simulates the vérité of photojournalistic work, Bourouissa’s photographs are in actuality deftly staged, fictional depictions of the predominantly Arab and African communities that inhabit these geographically and socially peripheral areas. Aptly named after the Boulevard Périphérique, this series of photographs references the ring-road surrounding Paris that more so divides than connects, addressing the stigmatized communities that exist on the ‘other’ side of this physical and metaphorical barrier.

Throughout Bourouissa’s work, each strategically crafted mise-en-scène is comprised of tight formal compositions reinforced by the rhythmic exchange of gazes and halted gestures. These works seem to capture a series of snapshots of everyday existence in the banlieues where the artist himself was raised. His subjects are both cropped and strategically positioned, implying a sense of documentary truth, through sensations of proximity, fluidity and spontaneity. As seen in such charged works as La Fenêtre (2005) and Sans titre (metro) (2007), these photographs convey a sense of disturbing tension and latent violence––his subjects gesture urgently with open hands and their expressions carry a grim disillusionment. Within each scene, faces are always partially obscured and bodies are turned away; we never catch a full glimpse of any of these protagonists. The obstruction of our field of vision through the artist’s carefully orchestrated compositions prevents the viewer from identifying with any one ‘character’ or subject. Yet, Bourouissa’s work is less about portraying a particular subjectivity and rather about generating a certain dramatized aura, transforming the specificity of these charged settings into constructs that can be manipulated and controlled. His photographs are like captured film stills, appearing as fragments of a larger narrative, both enigmatic and incomplete. 

Parallel to the ominous quality of Bourouissa’s photographs, each work unexpectedly conveys a quiet grace and lyricism. The artist draws heavily from the work of European masters, from the Romanticists such as Géricault and Delacroix to such Renaissance and Baroque painters as Piero della Francesca and Caravaggio. This connection is seen in such microelements as the glance or gesticulation of La Rencontre (2005), to the swirling and emotionally-charged compositions of La République (2006). The unlikely confluence of pictorial styles is both poignant and ironic, as the elitist legacy of French academic painting and the plight of the nation’s vast minority underclass were historically isolated, if not adverse to each other. By intermeshing traditional painterly composition, cinematographic poeticism and a photojournalistic façade, Bourouissa creates a series of complex tableaux, whose contrasting aesthetic strains allude to the continued divide between race and class in contemporary France. 

Moreover, by utilizing specific lighting, carefully selected ‘models’ and meticulously scouted peri-urban settings as backdrops, Bourouissa’s photographs present fictive spaces that function as sites of both friction and contestation, where new and multiple paths of meaning are generated. Through the unlikely mélange of a post-documentary conceptual style with more traditional painterly influences, the artist draws attention to the economy of representation, whether it is in the mass media, photojournalism or art historical canon. In subverting the documentary function of photography, Bourouissa blends the language of truth with elements of fiction in order to expose the artifice of cultural difference and representation. Undoubtedly influenced by the work of Jeff Wall, Bourouissa is part of a generation of artists working in photography that engage with digital post-production. Like Wall, Bourouissa creates the suspension of particular moment through the construction of fictive scenarios. In the surrounding indeterminacy and open-endedness of such ‘frozen’ settings, the spatio-temporal ambiguity of the image facilitates a multiplicity of interpretations. The scene depicted in Le Téléphone (2006)––along with the photograph’s cryptic title––gives the appearance that this frame is part of a larger, more convoluted narrative. It is the setting’s cinematic quality that lends to its inscrutability: what happened before and after this moment? Are these young men engaged in an act of aggression or perhaps an act of passionate confrontation? Are they situated inside or outside? Why is the young man in red documenting this encounter? Moreover, is this reality or fiction? The close cropping and proximity of Bourouissa’s subjects places the viewer within this constructed space, while the phone’s presence draws attention to our own gaze and voyeurism. With the phone aimed directly at us, this device almost alludes to the metaphorical lens through which we perceive and form assumptions about the world around us––in this case, highlighting the mediation that occurs in the construction of racial and cultural stereotypes.

Périphéries is Bourouissa’s first solo exhibition in New York after being featured in 2009 in the New Museum’s survey of emerging international artists, Younger Than Jesus. In his debut at Yossi Milo Gallery, Bourouissa presents work that is intense and provocative, depicting a particular community who has been subject to misrepresentation within the media and other photojournalistic accounts. Yet through his portrayal of various fictional scenarios, the artist exposes the structures of power that inform the circulation of images and the production of meaning in a society that bombards us with images and documents of ‘truth.’ Throughout Périphéries, Bourouissa’s subjects relay the sense of anomie and dislocation experienced by many of these young denizens, through their social and geographic marginalization within French society. The sense of suspension achieved in his work allows for a critical space from which we can re-imagine these scenarios and rearticulate such categories of representation. Above all, Bourouissa’s work allows us to reconsider the implicit violence of both mis- and non-representation, specifically for the disadvantaged immigrant youth that exist liminally within the périphéries of Paris.


Mohamed Bourouissa, La fenêtre, 2005
Digital C-Print
Copyright Mohamed Bourouissa
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Galeries Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris.


Mohamed Bourouissa, La République, 2006
Digital C-Print
Copyright Mohamed Bourouissa
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Galeries Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris.


Mohamed Bourouissa, Sans titre (metro), 2007
Digital C-Print
Copyright Mohamed Bourouissa
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Galeries Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris.

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