Joycean Struggles in Modern-Day Algeria: Lydia Ourahmane’s “Paralysis”
James Joyce’s depictions of the Irish middle class might not seem overtly relevant to modern-day Algeria, but as curator and arts advocate Yasmina Reggad suggests, the latest works by Algerian artist Lydia Ourahmane, now showing at Ellis King in Dublin, reveal a subtle but significant connection between the two cultures.
The link isn’t about demographics or economies, but human struggles. Joyce famously expressed Irish frustrations and heartaches—and the constant grappling with identity, both personal and national—in his works, perhaps most notably in his short story collection Dubliners (1914). The same inner conflicts ail the modern Algerian, says Reggad, who points to the country’s complex recent history, noting the development of a dysfunctional bureaucracy since the nation gained independence in 1962.
The works in Ourahmane’s show, aptly named “Paralysis,” refer specifically to the issues that plague Algeria, producing anxiety and even desperation in its citizens. p.H. 8.7 (2015), for instance, is an installation partly made with fertile soil smuggled from Médéa, a town known in Algeria for its associations with the so-called “Triangle of Death,” where notorious massacres took place during the Algerian Civil War of 1997-98.
The ready-made Give Some 2 Get Some (2015), on another note, features the neck of a Renault Scenic detachable tow bar—it’s a comment on importing goods and the restrictions that surround the process within Algeria. The Third Choir (2014) serves similar goals. The installation consists of 20 Naftal oil barrels: the artist had to apply six times before she was able to import them from Algeria into the UK. Other works touch on similarly loaded topics like illegal immigration and violence.
Disillusionment and despair: familiar themes for Joyce fans, indeed, and for anyone with a beating heart. In “Paralysis,” Ourahmane touches on a nerve for Algerians and, perhaps by extension, for the Irish. And for everyone else who has to live in the modern world—import restrictions differ by country, but joy, frustration, satisfaction, and disappointment are all too universal.
“Paralysis” is on view at Ellis King, Dublin, May 22–Jun. 27, 2015.