Algerian painter Driss Ouadahi studied architecture before immigrating to Germany, where he continues to live and work. Utilizing a vocabulary of architectural motifs, Ouadahi makes large-scale paintings that borrow from the history of modernist grid painting and traditional Islamic aesthetics, while tackling the difficult and timely topic of human migration.
Ouadahi asks us to consider the political and psychological aspects of boundaries and the relationship they have to ethnicity and social class, through representations of three types of architectural imagery: cityscapes of glittering modernist high-rises, claustrophobic depictions of subway tunnels and photo-realistically rendered pictures of chain link fences.
Perhaps in response to his volunteer work—helping refugees from conflicts in the Middle East resettle in Germany—imagery of the cyclone fence dominates Ouadahi’s most recent paintings. Fencing is a very real impediment to the movement of the millions of people currently fleeing war and violence or seeking a better life. It’s used to shut them out, pen them in and divide “them” from “us.” The fence is a dehumanizing symbol of “otherness”—a metaphor for alienation—as ugly a signifier as it is an object.
Ouadahi’s depictions of the fence are meticulous. Delicately-rendered, woven-steel wire is drawn against the sky, simultaneously seductive and ominous. The fences sometimes stretch taught across the picture plane as an unbroken barrier, but more often are slashed open like a gaping wound or have the regularity of their grids bent out-of-shape, evidence that someone has torn through or scrambled up and over. These are images of struggle and irrepressibility… a message to those who call for the building of walls and the closing of borders.
Driss Ouadahi was born in Morocco in 1959 to Algerian political exiles. He studied architecture in Algiers, and painting at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where he continues to live. He participated in the Cairo Biennial in 2010 and was included in The Future of a Promise: Contemporary Art from the Arab World during the 2011 Venice Biennale. He was awarded the grand prize at the Dakar Biennale in 2014. His work has been exhibited internationally, including in Dubai, New York, North Africa and throughout Europe. This is his fifth solo exhibition at Hosfelt Gallery.