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Picture Boujmal (1)
- Nicène Kossentini
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- Boujmal (1)
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Born in 1976 in Sfax, in Tunisia, photographer/video-maker Nicène Kossentini lives and works in Tunis. A graduate of the Institute of Fine Arts in Tunis and Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg, she has also studied at Le Fresnoy in Tourcoing, and Les Gobelins in Paris. She has exhibited frequently in Tunisia, South Africa, Mali, Switzerland and Norway.
In work drawing on her native culture and origins, Nicène Kossentini also sets out to examine the anxieties of a Tunisian society now tending to fossilise and lose its character. At the same time she examines her personal history in evocations of the places that marked her childhood, among them Lake Boujmal, just a few kilometres from her home city. In each image the dried-up lake is combined with the portrait of a woman representing the artist's mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother. Using photos from her family album, Kossentini redraws the landscape of her early years, with her memories and her first experiences of loneliness. She conjures up, too, the "inhabited places" – secret gardens, interior terrains – we all have inside us. This metaphorical view of space – a fictional or known mental space – calls on the viewer to immerse himself in a floating world mingling presence and absence, oblivion and revival. The result is a feeling of a suspension of time in which past and present become one.
Finding expression in images repeating the same motif – the lake – over a period embracing three generations, this urge to introspection also testifies to the photographer's fascination with two famous composers of repetitive music, Terry Riley and Philip Glass. In the course of her explorations Kossentini reveals an obsession with bringing together the fragments of her own story and laying bare her memory-flow. This flow is visually extended by a written sentence with no beginning or end, no punctuation and no meaning, that uninterruptedly accompanies the images. Indecipherable and incomprehensible, the script evokes lost links with the past, buried strata and hidden or repressed truths.
In addition to this examination of her personal history, the young woman is carrying on a battle against forgetfulness. At once artistic and civic, this duty to memory she shares with many Arab artists is to be seen, says sociologist Jocelyne Dakhlia, in relation to the hegemony of the Arab states, with their insensitivity to heritage and abdication in terms of museum policy. Today, in the context of the Arab Spring, these artists, who until now had their gaze fixed on the past, are maybe going to work in favour of a present now taking its place in history.