Born of Algerian parents, Adel Abdessemed spent his childhood in Constantine, Algeria, where he studied before entering the Ecole nationale superieure des beauxarts de Lyon (1994–1998) and then working as an artist- in-residence at the Cite internationale des Arts, Paris (1999–2000). Since then, his travels between Berlin, New York, and London have influenced this cultural nomad. In his work he explores the concepts of exile and exodus and the relationship between materialization and conflict in the realms of politics, history, and religion. Just as our daily lives are interwoven with individual experiences, social events, and representations both spectacular and familiar, Abdessemed shows a sensitive and critical interest in the contemporary world, building an uncompromising vision using videos, actions, sculptures, drawings, and installations. Throughout his intense and prolific oeuvre—Christ on the cross made of barbed wire, a projected skeleton named Habibi, a bronze statue of Zinedine Zidane’s notorious head butt against his Italian football opponent Marco Materazzi, vandalized and burned-out cars made of terra cotta—Abdessemed’s work always appears to be in a state of high alert.
In 2014, he showed two major works, Mon Enfant (My Child) in ivory and Untitled in razor wire. Rendering these subjects in such unusual materials, he creates iconic images of the anonymous child from the Warsaw ghetto and the artist and his father posed as the biblical Isaac and Abraham from Caravaggio’s painting of 1603.
During the Biennale di Venezia, Abdessemed presents a new piece with the suggestive name of Nympheas (Water lilies), literally planting knives into the ground as though in a bouquet. It is as if he is creating a floor that is both menacing and disturbing, a misappropriation of objects which have a declared symbolism. This edition of the Biennale— All the World’s Futures—also presents Abdessemed’s Also Sprach Allah, a carpet on which the words paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1891) are clumsily inscribed, and a video documenting the action by which the artist’s work was realized.
Abdessemed has been honored with solo exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2012), and the Mathaf–Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha (2013), among many others.