Mohamed Bourouissa's Brutal Family Roots pays homage to the psychiatrist, political philosopher, and revolutionary Frantz Fanon and to his complex relationship with the city of Blida, Algeria, where the artist was born. Fanon’s contribution to the anti-colonial struggle and his deep analysis of the mechanisms through which oppression and racism operate are articulated in different ways by the two installations that comprise Brutal Family Roots. A new commission and the latest version of an ongoing project, Incomplete Herbarium (2020) and The Whispering of Ghosts (2018–20) both evidence Bourouissa’s unflinching attitude towards history and his bold approach to establishing collaborations and forms of dialogue with all sorts of subjectivities; he listens and gives equal consideration to a plant, an anonymous author, a passer-by, a patient at Blida’s psychiatric hospital, and to Fanon himself, recognizing them as polymorphic voices, carriers of forms of knowledge and authorities in their own right. Bourouissa’s sculptural assemblages intertwine these voices and acknowledge each as an essential part in the production of a polemical and thought-provoking narrative.
The first room contains Incomplete Herbarium. The title of this work refers to the careful augmenting action of the artist, which is documented in the video, though it also addresses the fallacies and power relations implicit in any form of taxonomy and categorization. The camera captures a close-up of an old herbarium; the hands of the artist leaf through its pages as he adds his own illustrations of flowers to the unfinished volume. Bourouissa discovered this book in the public library in Blida, albeit without any information about its authors, who clearly meant to produce a catalogue of regional plant life in the form of drawings. Having always been interested in the migratory circumstances of plant species, their historical links to colonial expeditions and the divisive classification of native, foreign or invasive types, the artist engages with this "unsigned object" through gesture, literally laying his hands on his own country’s past. Sitting close to the video on what looks like a company director’s chair, a bird of paradise plant—a tribute to Frantz Fanon’s presence in Blida—actively contributes to the soundtrack, its frequencies made audible through a system programmed by French sound designer Youmna Saba.
Sequences from Incomplete Herbarium are also included in The Whispering of Ghosts, presented in the second room. This video reveals the approach behind the artist’s research: no process is ever really complete, each exhibition an opportunity to test new configurations of ideas and materials. Originally shot in 2018, the film is presented in a pergola (redesigned by South Tyrolian designer Matthias Pötz) that acts as an “open” cinema and establishes a link to the garden outside. As documented in the video, this structure is the direct result of the dialogue between Mohamed Bourouissa and Bourlem Mohamed, a former patient of the psychiatric hospital in Blida, where Frantz Fanon worked as a doctor and first became aware of the structural problems with the psychiatric treatments offered to Algerian patients during the French colonial era. The film is edited in an erratic fashion that follows Bourlem Mohamed’s train of thought, jumping from his own memories of being a Fellagha (a freedom fighter in the anti-colonial Algerian War) to the planting and nurturing of the garden he created at the hospital in 1969. Gardening was one practice Frantz Fanon hoped would end the segregation and separation of colonial and indigenous patients. Mohamed Bourouissa seems to follow this legacy by nurturing an ecosystem of conflicting voices on what to learn from where.
Born in 1978 in Blida, Algeria, Mohamed Bourouissa lives and works in Paris, France. His work has been shown in numerous solo exhibitions, at Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, Germany (2020); Les Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles, France (2019); Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France (2018); Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2018); Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA (2017); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2016); Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany and the FRAC Franche-Comté, Besançon, France (2014). He has participated in biennials and triennials in Sydney, Australia (2020); Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Milan, Italy; and Liverpool, UK, (2019); Havana, Cuba; and Lyon, France (2015); Venice, Italy (2011); Berlin, Germany (2010); and Algiers, Algeria (2009).