Kader Attia (b. 1970, France) lives and works in Berlin. Attia grew up in both Algeria and in the suburbs of Paris. This experience of being part of two cultures is used as a starting point from which to develop a dynamic practice that reflects on the aesthetics and ethics of different cultures. Attia’s work explores the impact of Western cultural and political capitalism on the Middle East and North Africa, and considers how this residual strain of struggle and resistance to colonisation affects Arab youth, particularly those living in the banlieues (suburbs) of France.
For his work, Reason’s Oxymoron (2015), an eighteen-channel video installation, Attia created an expansive video library containing interviews with philosophers, ethnologists, historians, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, musicologists, patients, healers, fetishists, and griots. Each of the volumes is edited under different themes, such as ‘genocide’, ‘totem and fetish’, ‘reason and politics’, or ‘trance’. Taken either individually or as a whole, they offer commentary on psychiatric pathology as perceived in traditional non-Western cultures, on the one hand, and in modern Western societies, on the other.
In its mix of rational explanations and irrational representations of what the West calls psychiatry, the work is particularly concerned with the question of the irreparable, inherent in the idea of ‘repair’, and calls into question the ambivalence of the psyche of modern Western societies towards traditional non-Western societies. The work evidences the legacy of modernity as a Western-inflicted – and imported – notion, in which frictions amid traditional and occidental societies occur.
Attia questions the slippery border between rationality and irrationality, between science and metaphysics, between belief and mistrust. The conflicting perceptions of (in)sanity highlight the difficulties in healing psychological injuries. There is no definitive solution to soothe the burden of pain, and especially wounds inferred by historical events like colonization.