A copy of the Koran.
A photograph of a Moroccan King.
A calligraphic painting.
These are the only cultural objects that mounir fatmi remembers from his childhood home in 1970s Tangier – all of which he was forbidden to touch or were positioned out of reach, but which vividly captured his imagination.
In Fragmented Memory the Paris-based multimedia artist takes these objects as a starting point for his work ‘to show how the few elements of culture I had in my childhood home have shaped my artistic research, my aesthetic choices and my entire career,’ he says. fatmi adds that ‘through these objects, I draw a direct relationship to language, to memory, and to history in this show, because, for me, these three elements depend on one another: without language there is no memory and with no memory there is no history.’
In the late 1980s, fatmi left Morocco to study in Italy and Holland before settling in France. According to the artist: ‘I needed to step back from my country to be able to understand it and analyse its history.’ In Fragmented Memory fatmi furthers this personal journey by mining his memories – marking a rare autobiographical approach in his work.
fatmi calls himself ‘a migrant worker’ as a result of his feeling that he is always making work from a foreign place. Navigating this uprooted position has given rise to enthralling recent work, such as Roots, a large triptych wall relief made from reels of painstakingly twisted cable wire. Through the labyrinthine arrangement of meandering roots, which reference patterns found in ancient Islamic artwork, the artist asks, ‘Just how deep can a person’s roots go?’
Fragmented Memory expands on the artist’s objectives in his 2012 solo show at Goodman Gallery, Suspect Language – fatmi’s first with the gallery and in South Africa – in which he sought to construct visual and linguistic games aimed at freeing viewers from their preconceptions of politics and religion. Then, as now, he intended to ‘aesthetically trap the viewer’, as he puts it, in order to prompt new ways of seeing these structures. The thought-provoking work on display here covers a variety of mediums (sculpture, relief, installation, photography), with many pieces exhibited on the continent for the first time.
Some of the works reference fatmi’s Coma Manifesto, which he wrote 20 years ago and that would come to serve as a poetic guide for his artistic practice. It is made up of ‘very concentrated sentences that function like medicine,’ fatmi says, ‘and started with the poetic and provocative statement: ‘My father has lost all his teeth, I can bite him now’.’ The manifesto has since grown into a series of one-line warnings, remarks, instructions and advice that fatmi draws on in his works.
For this exhibition, fatmi has sculpted three distinct statements from metal plates. In Coma Manifesto 01, 02 and 03, letters have fallen out and lie scattered on the floor as an expression of the disillusionment and disorientation brought on by the artist’s traversal between Christian Europe and the North African country it colonised, where Islam dominates.
Fragmented Memory also features new work grappling with the concept of a collective national memory, such as The Visible Side of the King, a photographic series which explores the weight of myths that we project onto history. The work looks at the year 1953, during Morocco’s colonisation by France and Spain, when Moroccans reported seeing the face of King Mohammed V on the moon. According to fatmi, ‘The Moroccan people were under the influence of a collective hallucination. To reinforce the image of the king in exile and push citizens to revolt against the regime of France, Moroccan nationalists asked people to stare at photographs of the sultan that they had distributed and then to look up at the moon. There they saw his visage, not realising they were being tricked by an optical illusion. The subterfuge worked: Mohammed V, unaware of the ploy, received demonstrations of support in 1955, just before his return to Morocco and became known as the ‘moon king’.’
mounir fatmi was born in Tangier, Morocco. Today he lives and works between Paris and the city of his birth. He has had solo exhibitions at museums across Europe as well as Turkey and Morocco and has participated in group shows at institutions such as the Centre Georges Pompidou, Brooklyn Museum, Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha and the Victoria & Albert Museum. fatmi’s work has been selected for the Setouchi Triennial and for Biennales in Sharjah, Dakar, Seville, Gwangju, Lyon and Venice (including, most recently, the NSK State-in-Time Pavilion at the upcoming 57th Venice Biennale). fatmi has received several prizes, such as the Cairo Biennial Prize (2010), the Uriöt prize, Amsterdam and the Grand Prize Leopold Sedar Senghor of the 7th Dakar Biennial in 2006. He has also published four books on his practice, including Sans Histoire Paris (2012), Ghosting (2011), Megalopolis (2011) and This is not blasphemy, Paris (2015).