In Thresholds (part of Liverpool Biennial 2012) we’ll be installing many works for the first time since they entered the Tate collection. One highlight will be Kader Attia’s Untitled (Ghardaïa) 2009.
The installation presents a model of the Algerian town Ghardaïa made from cous cous, shown alongside photographs of the Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier and the French architect Fernand Pouillon, and a print of the UNESCO declaration that the town is a World Heritage site. During the nineteenth century Ghardaïa was colonised by France, but the buildings were not altered during this period and remain characteristic of Mozabite architecture. Le Corbusier visited Ghardaïa in 1931, just three years after becoming a French citizen, and made sketches of the buildings. These strongly resemble the style of modernist architecture he subsequently espoused in his treatise on urban planning, La cité radieuse.
That a noted French architect should take inspiration from an Algerian town may not seem significant, however, as Attia notes, ‘architecture has first to do with politics, with the political order.’ As Attia is a child of Algerian immigrants and grew up partly in a Parisian banlieue, this statement seems particularly resonant. The use of cous cous as the material to ‘build’ the model is appropriate as it will provide an approximation of the town’s decay over time throughout the exhibition, while representing one of the region’s most popular foods – now a staple of European cuisine.
By replicating the town as an architects’ model in this way Attia shows the impact of his native culture, which had operated as a non-powerful host to colonial France, on their old colonisers, who went on to play host to the artist and his family. As well as highlighting the cultural impact of the colonised onto the coloniser, reversing the normally reported direction of influence, this also reveals the complexity of hospitality between people and nations which often relates to dispossession and re-appropriation. Hospitality is the theme of Liverpool Biennial 2012.
You can see this work on display on our 2nd floor as part of the free exhibition Thresholds at Tate Liverpool from 15 September 2012 – 7 April 2013