Adel Abdessemed is an Algerian contemporary artist, whose work is represented in a variety of media, including animation, installation, performance, sculpture and video. Born in Constantine, Algeria in 1971, he now lives and works in Paris, France.
The artist fondly recalls the silent, rough landscapes of the Aurès mountains: ‘dry, full of scars: the land of the Berber Numidians.’ The third of five children, Abdessemed grew up and began his studies in Batna, Algeria. At sixteen, he was the youngest in his intake at the École régionale des beaux-arts de Batna. The artist remembers his school as a haven, a space to create and to run free; something which ended abruptly with the arrival of Arabisation in Algeria. He saw the mandated imposition of the Arabic language and customs upon his community, and the ensuing suffocation of the Berber identity and vernacular. Expression, he notes, was a rare good.
Against this background of cultural censorship, Abdessemed went on to attend the École supérieure des beaux-arts in Algiers, a city where he discovered Raï music, literature, alcohol and nightlife; in spite of the curfew and the violence which pervaded the city. Faced daily with news of student executions, attacks and political assassinations, life as an artist became untenable. The murder by Islamists of Ahmed Asselah, director of the Beaux-Arts, plus his twenty-two-year-old son, left an indelible mark on Abdessemed. So frequent were the attempts on his own life, the artist found himself unable to stay more than three nights in the same place. He left Algeria for France in 1994.
France was to represent a kind of second birth for the artist, who often describes his ‘roots’ as being in Algeria, and his ‘crops’ in France. It was here that he was able to truly develop his art, uncensored. Having enrolled at the École nationale des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Abdessemed expanded his use of materials beyond traditional media, he explored the possibilities of video and of collaborating with a community of artists. After meeting his wife, Julie, everything felt possible. The artist and his family have since lived in London, New York, Berlin and Paris, where they are currently based.
Since Abdessemed’s first solo exhibition in 2001, several others have been devoted to him, including at MoMA P.S.1, New York; San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco; Parasol Unit, London; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha and many more. The artist was given a major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2012, and is represented in numerous international collections, both public and private.
Currently, Abdessemed is working on the scenography and costumes for the opéra Saint François d’Assise by Olivier Messiaen, due to be staged in 2024 at the Grand Théâtre in Geneva. In 2020 the artist exhibited at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris as part of the group show Crossing Views, and is due to stage a major solo show over five floors at Rockbund Museum, Shanghai, in November 2021.