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Issue 217

Mohamed Bourouissa Creates Images Against Racial Stereotypes

At Galerie Parisa Kind, Frankfurt, the artist blends reality and fiction to address issues of precarity 

BY Radia Soukni in EU Reviews , Reviews | 03 FEB 21

Collaboration is at the heart of Paris-based artist Mohamed Bourouissa’s work. In most of his photographs, his role ranges from being an observer to actively immersing himself in the communities he documents. Through photography, videos and sculptures, he seeks to bring attention to issues of class struggle and social affiliation. Bourouissa’s exhibition, ‘Nasser’, at Galerie Parisa Kind comprises works from 2014 to 2020 and gives an excellent insight into his artistic language that operates between fiction and documentary.

Inspired by pictures of horsemen by photographer Martha Camarillo, Bourouissa started documenting the day-to-day life of Black cowboys in Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club over the course of eight months. Later, he approached the members of the club and proposed an event called Horse Day, a riding competition and pageant, in collaboration with local artists, who designed costumes for the horses made out of CDs and shimmering ribbons. Presented in the first gallery, the series ‘Horse Day’ (2014–17) shows Bourouissa’s photographs of the horsemen alongside drawings and notes, documenting the process leading up to the event as well as archival material relating to the culture of horse riding.

Mohamed Bourouissa, Horse Day
Mohamed Bourouissa, Sans Titre (Untitled), from the series ‘Horse Day’, 2014, drawing and collage on paper, 45 × 37 cm. Courtesy: the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

An untitled collage from 2014 of this series features printed stills of American Western movies showing heroic white cowboys annotated with the names of the riders Bourouissa worked with. Their faces are drawn over with green pencil. By applying the concept of a green screen, which allows editing in any image, Bourouissa counteracts the whitewashing of cowboys in American Western films, creating a space which recalls the history and culture of African American cowboys. In a similar manner, another untitled work from 2015 assembles photographs of the horsemen with a Google Maps route of horse races in Philadelphia, revealing that these are situated in predominantly African American neighbourhoods.

The second gallery is dedicated to ‘Shoplifters’ (2014–15), a series of 20 framed photographs. The starting point for this work was a supermarket in Brooklyn, where the manager took Polaroid pictures of shoplifters who were asked to hold up the items they were about to steal. In most cases, these are essential foods like bread, eggs and fruit. Positioned behind the counter, the photographs are supposed to scare off potential new thieves. Bourouissa asked the manager for permission to copy the Polaroids, and then photographed and framed them. While looking at the meticulously curated series in the gallery, it is impossible to miss that the majority of the photographed people are Black or people of colour, raising questions about class struggle and how racist stereotypes of criminal behaviour are being created and preserved. Here, however, the artist restages the images as portraits of precarity rather than of criminality. 

Mohamed Bourouissa, Shoplifters
Mohamed Bourouissa, Unknown #6, from the series ‘Shoplifters’, 2014–15, inkjet print,  32 × 24 cm. Courtesy: the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Bourouissa’s artistic practice calls to mind Hal Foster’s essay ‘The Artist as Ethnographer?’ (1995), in which the art historian identifies an ethnographic turn within artist practices of the 1990s and problematizes the implications that come with that practice as being dependent on articulating a cultural and ethnic otherness. While Bourouissa’s engagement with ethnographic methods falls in line with these tendencies in contemporary art over the last three decades, Foster’s criticism cannot be applied to his works. The subjects of Bourouissa’s photographs are not being framed as others or as outcasts, but as a part of society that people don’t pay enough attention to. In ‘Nasser’, the artist blends reality with fiction to create works that address realities and structures within communities and cultures that others shy away from. 

Main image: Mohamed Bourouissa, ‘Nasser’, exhibition view, 2020, Galerie Parisa Kind, Frankfurt. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Parisa Kind, Frankfurt

Radia Soukni is a writer based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany