Hicham Benohoud

The Classroom

1994–2000

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Not on display

Artist
Hicham Benohoud born 1968
Original title
La Salle de Classe
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 362 × 239 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented anonymously 2015
Reference
P20449

Summary

These black and white silver gelatin print photographs, collectively titled The Classroom, are from a group of over a hundred made between 1994 and 2000 while the artist was working as an art teacher in a Marrakech school. The photographs were printed by the artist in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs. To make them, Benohoud involved the students in his class in a performative project. They were given different physical constraints – specific poses and gestures to adopt – and a range of accessories to wear on their limbs or around their bodies. These accessories included nests of boxes, wire, broken mirrors and large rolls of paper or fabric, evoking a theatre of child psychology and creating a tension between childish games and symbolic violence. In some of Benohoud’s carefully staged photographs, the rest of the class continues to work studiously at their tables while other students play as surreal puppets, at times apparently ‘beheaded’ or handicapped in some way by their strange accessories, and at other times hanging from the ceiling of the classroom as if its spatial limits had been extended by force. These shackled and bound bodies are depicted in an enclosed space, since the classroom windows can barely be seen, making the use of light critical in the transformation of these young people into ‘living sculptures’. Benohoud’s imagery references both the art of pantomime and the confined environment, demonstrating the artist’s familiarity with the writings of French philosopher Michel Foucault on prisons.

In The Classroom, the photographer is not a passing voyeur documenting moments caught by chance, but rather acts as a director staging a series of tableaux in which his pupils enact power relations between the individual and the institution. Collapsing the distance between the photographer, the subject and the viewer, the Classroom series questions viewers’ attitudes towards their own pleasure or discomfort at seeing these ambiguous scenes. It also challenges them to size up and evaluate the six years spent on this ‘fool’s game’, which seems to take place on the margins of the school and during its downtime.

The series can be read as an allegory for the cultural and religious taboos in Moroccan society which constrain individual behaviour. Typically of Benohoud’s work, any social criticism or sense of subversion is expressed with irony and feigned lightness. In his essay presenting Benohoud’s series, Christian Caujolle, director of the VU agency and gallery in Paris which showcased the work in 2001, asked: ‘How do these seemingly calm images, which look so serene, manage to suggest deep violence – invisible but very real violence, the kind of violence that touches the individual in the depths of his being – even though they are anything but spectacular?’ (Caujolle in Benohoud 2001).

Photography occupies a central place in Benohoud’s interdisciplinary practice, which ranges from painting to new media, making the link between identity politics and power relations and often using his own body in his staged photographs. Images from The Classroom were included in the Marrakech Biennale in 2014 and the exhibition Le Maroc Contemporain at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, in 2014–15.

Further reading
Hicham Benohoud, La Salle de classe, exhibition catalogue, Galerie VU, Paris 2001.
Where are we now?, exhibition catalogue, Marrakech Biennial 5, Heijningen 2014.
Le Maroc Contemporain, exhibition catalogue, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris 2014.

Morad Montazami
June 2015

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