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Review: multimedia artist Kader Attia takes the temper of the times at MCA
Sydney Morning Herald

If ever an artist were attuned to the temper of our times it is Kader Attia (b.1970). Following a successful showing in Documenta 13 in 2012, this French-Algerian creator of multimedia installations and videos has since become one of the most sought-after artists in the world.

 

The piece that made such a powerful impression was called The Repair, from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures. It featured a series of metal racks on which roughly carved wooden busts portrayed the disfigured faces of soldiers wounded during the First World War. There were also historical photos of these injured faces and a small library of titles relating to colonialism.

 

The installation struck a sympathetic chord with curators and critics who appreciated Attia's readiness to address the transcultural themes that were already dominating the big international exhibitions. By using the word "repair", the artist also suggested a positive, healing process, rather than a simple critique.

 

Five years on there is another Documenta in Kassel, in which political preoccupations have almost completely swallowed the art. Yet the growth of this obsession has been a boon to Attia who now looks like an artist who was ahead of the trend. He shows with big name galleries around the world, and has been feted by art museums from Frankfurt to Boston.

 

His exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, put together by Rachel Kent, features a representative selection of his recent work. There are variations on Repair, including J'Accuse (2016), in which the carved wooden heads witness a screening of the famous anti-war melodrama by Abel Gance that gives the piece its name. Attia uses the "summoning the dead" sequence from the 1938 version, that still has the power to leave audiences gasping.

 

In the same room we find The Culture of Fear: An Invention of Evil (2013), in which tall metal racks act as a showcase for books and periodicals, including old copies of French colonial magazines giving lurid portrayals of the savagery of those races that resisted the encroachments of European civilisation.

 

The now-familiar photos of wounded soldiers are included in Untitled (2017), alongside images of broken statues from the ancient world.