Latifa Echakhch presents a new installation for the fourteenth edition of Sensory Spaces in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. It is the first time this internationally renowned artist – winner of the 2013 Marcel Duchamp Prize and the 2015 Zurich Art Prize – will have a solo exhibition in the Netherlands. Especially for the Willem van der Vorm Galerij, Echakhch creates a dramatic scene with clothes drenched in black ink. On the floor are the traces left by the clothes as they were dragged across it. Walking through the room visitors will discover that the traces form meaningful patterns.
Latifa Echakhch describes herself as a romantic at heart. Born in Morocco, she grew up in France, in Aix-les Bains on the banks of Lac du Bourget, a romantic landscape par excellence. Nowadays she lives and works in Martigny in the equally charming surroundings of the Swiss Alps. She draws the inspiration for her work from memories of her childhood and from political events, literature and poetry.
Art history too, in particular the art of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, is a reference point for her aesthetic vocabulary. Echakhch makes works, often in the form of compositions with existing objects, which have a strongly emotional, melancholic and sometimes even violent expressive power. At the same time her work is characterized by a minimalist pictorial idiom, with an acute sense of form and an economy of means. Echakhch excels in eliminating the superfluous and maintaining a balance between form and content.
Visitors who see her work often witness the fallout from an action: coloured
glass shards from smashed teacups (Erratum, 2009), the scratched-out remains of a mural (Cross Fade, 2017) or prayer mats where the middles have been cut out so that only the fringed edges remain, like empty frames (Frame, 2008). Visitors only see what is left, so they must call upon their powers of imagination.
The notion of absence plays a major role in Echakhch’s oeuvre. Something that is absent or intangible – a homeland, a national identity – can have a huge and lasting impact. Yet it would be too easy to reduce her work to a melancholy reflection of ostensibly lost cultural roots. Concepts like ‘identity’, ‘origin’ and ‘belonging’ do play a role in her work, but are deconstructed rather than empowered. She uses objects, motifs and materials that are supposedly ‘Arabic’ or ‘oriental’, and thus supposed to define her culturally, but then she hollows them out or smashes them to bits – like the Moroccan teacups which are just as exotic to her as to everyone else.
Another example is the work Stoning (2010), a collection of loose stones that the artist threw forcibly against the walls of a gallery. The work inexorably conjures up the image of a stoning and is a silent indictment of this method of capital punishment, with a long history in Christian iconography and still in use in some Islamic countries . At the same time, the work holds echoes from recent art history, for example the minimalist sculptures by Richard Long and the performance Stoning the Refrigerator (1996) by Jimmie Durham. Echakhch feels a strong need to undermine preconceived ideas about identity, nationality and cultural tradition. Although this is sometimes accompanied by a violent force, the political content of her work is never frontal or one-dimensional, but rather subtle and poetic.