Exhibitions

Architecture of the Veil: An Installation by Samta Benyahia

January 28, 2007 to September 2, 2007

“Beyond the obvious gender reference, there is a sense here of the fragile, poetic, real and pernicious barriers that separate cultures as well as people.”
ArtScene, July/Aug 2007

This site-specific installation and first U.S. museum exhibition by Algerian artist Samta Benyahia takes its theme from the moucharabieh, the openwork screens used in Mediterranean Islamic architecture to cover windows and balconies, allowing those inside—typically women—to view the outside world without being seen. For this installation, Benyahia covers the Fowler’s entrance doors and Mediterranean-inspired interior courtyard windows with printed films of a blue moucharabieh pattern. Encircling the courtyard in the Museum’s Galleria are sixty “rosettes” consisting of sequin-embroidered motifs on netting and eight large-scale black-and-white photographs of early 20th-century Algerian women including the artist’s mother and aunt. The installation provides a beautiful and dynamic exploration of gender as well as the dialectic between interior and exterior, light and shadow, concealment and revelation, and private versus public space.

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Exhibition In Depth

Algerian artist Samta Benyahia employs Mediterranean Islamic architectural motifs in combination with photographs and oral poetry to explore issues of gender, space, and power. Influenced by the achievements of Algerian women artists—who have emerged on local and international art scenes in spite of the repressive politics of Algeria’s recent history— Benyahia will have her U.S. museum debut at the Fowler Museum with Architecture of the Veil: An Installation by Samta Benyahia, on display Jan. 28 through Sep. 2, 2007.

Architecture of the Veil will be a site-specific installation that takes its theme from the moucharabieh, the geometric openwork screens used in Mediterranean Islamic buildings to cover windows and balconies, allowing those inside—typically women—to view the outside world without being seen. In late 2005 Benyahia visited the Fowler Museum and was delighted to see that the Fowler building was designed in the spirit of Andalusian architecture, much like the spaces of her childhood in North Africa that have inspired her deep explorations of the moucharabieh.

For this installation, Benyahia will cover the Fowler’s glass entrance doors and arched interior courtyard windows with digitally printed films of a blue moucharabieh pattern. Encircling the courtyard in the Museum’s Goldenberg Galleria will be sixty “rosettes” consisting of sequin-embroidered motifs on netting, and eight large-scale black-and-white photographs of early 20th-century Algerian women, including the artist’s mother and aunt. Recordings of poems recited in Arabic and French will be heard throughout this installation, which will be a dynamic exploration of gender relations as well as of the tension between interior and exterior, concealment and revelation, and private versus public space.

About the Artist

Born in Constantine, Algeria, in 1949, Samta Benyahia studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs, Paris from 1974 to 1980, and taught at the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts in Algiers from 1980 to 1988. She immigrated to France in 1988 and received her DEA (Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies) in Arts Plastiques from the University of Paris, VIII. Currently she works and lives in Paris. During the past 20 years, Benyahia has participated in group and solo exhibitions in venues throughout the world, including the Dak’Art Biennale de Dakar, Senegal (2004), the Venice Biennial (2003), the Museum of Modern Art, U.K. (2003), and the Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden (2004), as well as at many European galleries.

Additional Information

Architecture of the Veil: An Installation by Samta Benyahia is made possible by the generous support of Barbara and Joe Goldenberg and Etant donnés: The French-American Fund for Contemporary Art. Additional support provided by Air France. Special thanks to the Levantine Cultural Center and the French Consulate of Los Angeles.

Exhibition Credits

Architecture of the Veil: An Installation by Samta Benyahia was made possible by the generous support of Barbara and Joe Goldenberg and Etant donnés: The French-American Fund for Contemporary Art. Additional support provided by Air France. Special thanks to the Levantine Cultural Center and the French Consulate of Los Angeles.

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