Nidhal Chamekh, iconograph of fragments

01 April 2016

© Copyright 2016 Happening. Clotilde Scordia

Crowned with the prestige of having been chosen by Okwui Enwezor to participate in the 56th Venice Biennale, an edition charged with geopolitical discourse, Nidhal Chamekh is an artist that is embarking upon a career full of promise. At Selma Feriani gallery, Chamekh’s work is on display alongside Massinissa Selmani, at Drawing Now and DDESSIN, featuring works from 2013 to 2014. Elsewhere the artist’s most recent exhibition, “Burn” has just come to an end at the Primo Marella gallery in Milan.


Drawing as a witness to contemporaneity

“I work around the question of fragments within my artistic practice,” says Chamekh, “It is a very specific subject around the signification of signs and the lack thereof. The driving ideas behind my theoretical research can be found in drawing itself and in questions that relate to fragmentation, or the distance between two images, the significance that this can develop, bypassing a certain representation applied to the drawing.” Having studied at the Fine Arts School of Tunis, Nidhal Chamekh arrived in Paris in 2008 where he continued his studies, thanks to the financial aid of the Tunisian government, undertaking a Master and a Doctorate all whilst maintaining his artistic practice. Drawing may be at the center of his work, yet he is becoming more drawn to “participative interfaces” such as electronic installations. He recently created a neon light installation in the colors of the French flag, overlayed with a phrase in Arabic taken from a popular Tunisian song by Mezoued, La France m’a malmené (France has mistreated me). Yet for Chamekh drawing will always take precedence over other mediums. “Drawing is something else, inscribed in the present. Even if we are working from a fixed image we are nonetheless constrained by ephemerality.”


Nidhal Chamekh (Courtesy of the artist)

 Nidhal Chamekh continually experiments with every possibility to contained within drawing practice, and each work begins with extensive academic research. “Drawing is Degree Zero of painting. I am interested in ink but I am fascinated by the line, from which you cannot go back over.” The freedoms left to the unconscious also plays a role in the creative process of the artist. Nidhal Chamekh considers that precision comes from total chance. The graphite powder used to create the body of work presented at Primo Marella allowed Chamekh to forego traditional tools like paintbrushes. Chamekh presents his work tools laid out across his studio, handmade by the artist himself in order to work exactly as he wishes with his graphite powder.

Iconology of the subconscious

At the origin of each work, we find images, stories, novels, current affairs, from this jumble of references Nidhal Chamekh looks to Walter Benjamin, Georges Didi-Huberman, Theodor Adorno as well as Guy Debord and the Situationnistes or Isidore Isou, “I’m in the company of rebels” he grins. “Their text inspire me because their words do not conclude with closed definitions, but practical, concrete conceptual abstractions. For example Didi-Huberman worked on Brecht on the question of the assembly of images.” This association of images can be found throughout certain works by Chamekh, such as a piece which references Atlas mnémosyne, a body of work established by art historian Aby Warburg in 1921 which he worked on until his death in 1929. This reviewing of history by the artist enlarges once more the spectrum of readability for the viewer.

Etudes pour la série De quoi rêvent les martyrs
©Courtesy Nidhal Chamekh et la galerie Selma Feriani

The pieces presented by Chamekh are often echos of ongoing research, “I never make preparatory studies, I don’t even have preparatory ideas, it is only process that guides my work. It is all a question of assembly. Everything takes off from an initial image and everything is constructed as need be in reference to various texts, news, points of view that are malleable to be played with, assimilated or rejected. This is the element of my work that comes the most close to human nature. I rarely draw flowers, my drawings are stuffed with multiplied references.”It is equally important to mention the place of memory and archive within Chamekh’s practice; his native Tunisia is never far away. Chamekh brings out his latest series of works Trois poses de Fadhel Sassi, a triptych of measuring almost 7 meters in charcoal, it was also presented at Primo Marella and represents the death of a young militant martyr during the riots of 1984 in Tunisia. Fadhel Sassi taught Arabic and studied literature at the same university as Nidhal Chamekh’s mother who kept a series original prints by an anonymous photographer. “I lived with these photos, I knew them and I reworked all of them. Here we find both fragmentation and assemblage within the same sequence. Originally these 5 photos were taken one after another by a photographer who did not move, I reframed them to add movement.” A desire to recount something always resurfaces, these fragments that the viewer discovers give access to memory or events.

And so what is next for the artist? He is currently preparing an “incredibly important” exhibition in Tunis with Selma Feriani gallery, which is to take place in September where he will present a project which references the artist studio or a cabinet of curiosities. “Like Michel Foucault once said, ‘The object and the knowledge of the object.’ This is what allows me to come back to myself.”

Nidhal Chamekh
DRAWING NOW, galerie Selma Feriani, March 30 through April 3
DDESSIN, April 1 through 3