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The Installations ofHouriaNiati SALAH M. HASSAN The life and work of Houria Niati are exemplary of the little known journeys ofAfrican artists into western centers of modernism, London, Paris and other western metropole. As I have also argued elsewhere,I African artists have been in the forefront of modernism and postmodernism, as well. Like other African artists in her predicament, Niati's work appears indistinguishable from her western colleagues, yet, a more critical look would reveal the fact that her work has been expressive of her problematic relationship with the western world in which she lives, and with western Modernism as well. Hence, her work should be analyzed and understood within the context of the "other's" response to colonial and postcolonial conditions, and resistance to western hegemonic practices. Here I intend to focus primarily on two of Niati's recent installations: The first No to the Torture is a commentary on the 19th century Orientalist French painter Eugene Delacroix'sThe Women ofAlgiers. The other is entitled Bringing Water from the Fountain has Nothing Romantic About It continues her explorations and interrogations of Orientalists ' images and constructs ofAlgerian women in popular photographs and post cards from the French colonial period in Algeria. These photographs and post cards have recently been publicized through the critical work of the Algerian writer Malek A1loula, "The Colonial Harem:'2 Niati's work certainly carries mean- "Journal of Contemporary African Art· Fall/Winter 1995 ing in relation to Algerians' discourse on their own culture and is, therefore, analyzed in relation to the intellectual and creative work of her Algerian compatriots , especially women, who have been engaged in a critical and self-critical discourse about the West and about their own past and present society and culture. Born in 1948 in Khemis Miliana, a small town near Algiers, Houria Niati earned a diploma in community work specializing in visual arts and music. Niati has been living and working in London since 1979 where she studied at the Camden Art Center, in London and Croydon College of Art. Like many other Algerians of her generation, Niati lived part of her childhood under the French occupation towards the end of the war for independence. She was a witness to the cruelties of the French and the heroic resistance of her people. Moving to the West in tlle late seventies to study art and pursue a career as an artist in London, she found herself in another form of confrontation with the West, this time with images of her country and people, especially women, fictionalized, exoticized and constructed in paintings by western artists, or in photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The new experience plus her complex background as a woman, an Algerian of Arabic and Berber heritage, and Islamic influences, are all reflected in her style and in the multiple references in her work. It is these multiple references which serve as an essential point of departure in tU1derstanding Niati's installations. THE INSTALLATIONS Niati's installations are composed of a series of paintings and mixed media works with a vibrant environment of sound and color, and accompanied by recitation of poetry and performances of songs by the artist herself. As a trained singer in Andalusian-Sha'bi and Rai musical traditions (publicized in the West through the music of Cheb Khalid, the Algerian singer), Niati likes to accompany her shows with a sound performance in which she sings traditional Algerian songs and reads English translations of her own poetry, which is ironically composed in French first. Produced between 1982-1983, No to the Torture, is based on Delacroix's well known painting Women ofAlgiers, (1834) depicting idealized and stereotyped images of Algerian women. This installation was first exhibited in Carn-vright Hall Museum, Bradford, England in 1990. It is composed of five paintings, plus drawings, sound track and photos, in addition to Niati's own performance of songs and dance at the opening which, as eArplained earlier, is perceived as integral to the installation. In the 1990 exhibition, Niati included a series of older paintings in pastels and mixed media produced in 1988, and entitled Commentary on the Women of Algiers by Delacroix. Five paintings...


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