Written by Arthur Debsi

Born in the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, France, in 1970 to an Algerian family originally from the mountainous areas around the Algerian city of Constantine, Kader Attia grew up between two countries and cultures. He studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré and the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs both in Paris. Then, he completed his education in Escola, Centre d’Arte I Disseny in Barcelona for one year.

At New York’s Guggenheim in May of 2016, Attia built a scale model of the historical Algerian city of Ghardaïa using nearly eight hundred pounds of couscous.

The oeuvre of Kader Attia is the result of the research process, which has led him to tackle multiple issues in his practice. Employing a wide range of mediums such as photography, sculpture, installation, video, or unconventional ones such as couscous and sugar, he likes to work on paradoxical concepts which question the relationship between the humans and their environments: void and emptiness, presence and absence or time and space. In a significant amount of his works, he conceptualizes the notions of repair, which he considers to be a metaphor for cultural re-appropriation and resistance. In the binary world which separates the modern Western world and the traditional non-Western world, he focuses on the cultural gap between the notions of repair in politics, science, nature, and its continuity. Besides, he takes inspiration from what he experiences, what he sees to create pieces almost in the manner of an ethnologist. As part of his Algerian non-military service, Attia traveled to Congo, where he spent several years and witnessed the physical and psychological stigma of colonization. The shared history between France and Algeria, such as the Independence movement between 1954 to 1962 or the civil war in Algeria from 1991 to 2002, provoked large migratory flows. In one way or another, the contemporary artist has been related to those events and their political and sociological impacts on the populations who left their lands and had to adapt to their new homes. 

Kader Attia sees the life in French suburbs as the mirror of the relationship between France and Algeria. In these areas, the past hurts and resentments can sometimes fuel social unrest and other tensions, which encouraged the artist to develop the theme of immigration, often delving into colonial history. In an edition from the series entitled Harragas (2009), refer to the word ‘harragas,’ which means ‘those who burn’ and metaphorically indicates the illegal men, migrants, in the Algerian dialect. Here, Attia collected small pictures of immigrants from North-Africa who tried to cross the Mediterranean sea to enter the European continent illegally. From a closer view, the spectator notices the details of those immigrants sometimes being arrested or rescued from drowning with survival blankets, by the coast guards. The artist interpreted the masterpiece Le Radeau de la Méduse (1818-1819) by the French painter Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) by creating a mise en abyme with pixelized images. He also created a correlation between Harragas and Le Radeau de la Méduse, both symbolizing the fail and the loss of hope. On the other hand, the first example shows people from the former French colonies, whereas the second represents the colonial power – since the frigate was sent to reestablish French presence in West-Africa in 1816.

Kader Attia investigates complex topics through an artistic language that attempts to address the spectator directly. Art expresses reflections and interrogations. He wants to confront the audience to the current difficulties of the world, namely the identities, the emergence of religious dogma, and cultural divergences.

Attia currently lives and works in Berlin.


Scher, Robin. "In Service of Repair: Vader Attia on Systems of Belief and 'Reason's Oxymorons'." Art News. February 24, 17. http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/kader-attia’s-“reasons-oxymorons”/.

Weiner, Andrew Stefan. "Kader Attia's "Reason's Oxymorons"." Art Agenda. http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/kader-attia’s-“reasons-oxymorons”/.

“Kader Attia.” Kader Attia. Accessed April 20, 2020. http://kaderattia.de/.