In Bold Sculptures and Installations, a Muslim Artist Challenges Cultural Boundaries

Dec 27, 2016 7:42PM

“There is always a common thread running through ideas, concepts, interpretations and views about the world,” says Zoulikha Bouabdellah. The artist knows a thing or two about differing worldviews: she’s a Russian-born Muslim who grew up in Algeria and France.

Bouabdellah has led a peripatetic life. She grew up in Algeria until the outbreak of civil war in the early 1990s, later moving to Paris and then to Morocco, where she’s currently based. Each place has shaped her outlook. And moving between places has provided her with the necessary perspective to consider her place in the world as a woman, an Arab, and a Muslim.

Through videos, drawings, installations, and sculptures, Bouabdellah draws from that blend of cultural influences in her work, exploring themes of identity, home, belonging, and globalization. She makes art that challenges divisive ideologies and conventions: her works fuse Arabic, French, and English texts with pop culture iconography and religious symbols from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

One particularly striking installation, Silence Noir (2016), features Muslim prayer mats laid out in a grid. The artist has cut a hole into each mat and placed a pair of gold stilettos in the center, disrupting a symbol of piety with one of contemporary femininity.

Today, Bouabdellah has a solo exhibition at CAAM, and works included in a group show at the Institut des Cultures d’Islam and in “Lucy’s Iris,” an exhibition at Rochechouart Museum of Contemporary Art in France. She’s also represented by Sabrina Amrani. It’s there, in the Madrid gallery, that a wall piece entitled Mirage Blue to Black (2013), is on view.

In the striking stainless steel work, brightly colored fighter jets are arranged in a circle, forming a pattern resembling the decorative motifs of Islamic architecture.

“In a world in which images are omnipresent, I made a series of pieces keeping in mind that the elements that make them up conceal more than they show,” Bouabdellah said. “[M]y work…tries to be persuasive about the fact that things are not shown as they should be, that they tend to be evasive, to elude a single-meaning reading.”

—Karen Kedmey

Discover more artists at Sabrina Amrani.