PANDORA'S BOX

by Silvia Cirelli

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With Halida Boughriet, the Body Takes the Stage.
The body as a shield for discomfort, hidden behind the bewildered look of a little boy; the body as a revelation of violence reflected in the shining eyes of those who would like to forget; the body as a powerful expression of an emotion, abandoned in the twilight of a timid embrace.
Vulnerable, frightened, infuriated or simply “human”, the characters of the Franco-Algerian Halida Boughriet are courageous tightrope walkers that dance on the tenuous wire of life. In an emotional landscape that projects the true power of emotional ambiguity, the artist blends beauty and sorrow, escape and constriction, while exposing the tensions of human behaviour, and revealing the underlying frailty.

This visceral anthology, which absorbs the relics of intimacy that brim with fascination and the powers of suggestion, is easily decipherable in one of her most famous series, the Pandore of 2014, where Boughriet invites a group of kids from the Parisian suburbs to “inhabit” the mise en scène that she creates. Despite environments that capture attention for their rich and sophisticated decor, you cannot help but feel the arid lack of warmth, a coldness that is also visible in the eyes of her guests, understandably foreign to their surroundings. Their faces attempt to defy the video camera, which they provoke with misleading pride, but behind this forced insolence, there's nothing hidden but the embarrassment of not feeling at ease, the fragile awareness of “not belonging”. This sense of inadequacy, often found in the artist's works, in Pandore finds evident correspondence even in the choice of subjects – children of African and Arab immigrants – sincere witnesses of a complex integration that continues to push towards a social vulnerability that has become increasingly entrenched.

Even with the project Corps de Masse (2013-2014) – shot in the galleries of the enchanting Saint-Denis Museum of Art and History – Halida Boughriet once again takes up the same idea of ​​a group of people. Though this time she puts emphasis on the archetypes of confrontation and commonality. If, in fact, in Pandore there is the feeling that exclusion entirely saturates the scene – the kids, never have any kind of contact – in Corps de Masse, instead, we perceive the beauty and the poetry in encounters. As in a ritual of classical reference, the figures now seek each other out, their bodies come together naturally and almost instinctively, presenting poses that echo those of the works exhibited in the museum. The dreamlike dimension of the narrative construct, evoked by the choice of location, is further accentuated by the faint light that cautiously filters through the window and moves to caress the subjects, almost as if it wanted to preserve the precious harmony.

The euphony of the movement, while condensed in the concept of “reflection”, is renewed in Réflexion(s) of 2016, where “the other” becomes the viewer. Inspired by the German philosopher Leibniz, who, in his “Monadology” postulated the theory for which each of us projects a different view of the world, and therefore there are different worlds at the same time that depend on our individual perceptions, with this photographic project Halida Boughriet uses a mirror as a reflection of what each subject in the series sees. The protagonists of the various shots in fact, - ordinary passersby on the streets of Paris, Choisy le Roi, and Vitry-sur-Seine - cover their faces with a circular mirror that projects exactly what they're looking at. In this way they provide the viewer with a vision of their own “world”.
Albeit with a more philosophical approach than in previous works, the artist returns to the essential importance of cohesion and relationships between people, emphasizing the value of dialogue, first and foremost, as a social experience.

Halida Boughriet's expressive parable, beyond concentrating on the difficult but fundamental equilibrium of relationships, finds a poetic synthesis also in the urgency of constructing a collective memory. Its inevitable but corrosive essence, in fact, represents for the artist the initial element from which to narrate the nature of man, a nature crushed in an architecture of pain that sees the incessant repetition of wounds and scars that are by now impossible to treat. In her careful analysis of the processes of the evolution of memory, Boughriet believes in the knowledge and commitment towards a common historical culture. To achieve this joint consciousness, she offers her own body as main vehicle of expression. In this poetic ritual, her figure becomes both the subject and object of the act, and abandoning her sense of identity, she becomes a blank sheet ready to host metaphorically and physically the truths that she wants to narrate.
This is the case in the video Autoportrait (2007) – where Boughriet's eyes literally become the mirror on which images of war, destruction and suffering slide by – but also of the recent series Cri silencieux (2016), a performance, made not by chance in the symbolic Square of the Martyrs in Beirut, where she instead stages a harrowing but silent cry. In both works, the physical and mental strain of the stylistic grammar unleashes a perceptive pressure that is nearly violent, something that is capable of pushing the narrative to a corrosive and visceral perceptual level, as if the artist's body became that of the spectator, or her cry, our own.
The concept of sedimentation of memory and the interdependence of power relationships in contemporary society, also remains central in the moving performance Sans Titre (Afrique), realised at the Centre Pompidou in 2014 and proposed once again in Milan for this solo exhibition. The symbolic silence of the earlier works, now gives way to a sound composition created by Boughriet, where to the intense notes of Wagner's The Twilight of the Gods, The Funeral March of Siegfried she adds the dramatic sounds of war and violence. The music accompanies the dancer Olga Totukhova, who with charming grace, moves on a laminated map of Africa, a map that reveals the far too many hotspots of the continent, places where there are ongoing wars, conflicts or other political and social tensions. Despite the lyrical candour of the dance that stubbornly searches to oppose itself to the crudeness of the notes, little by little, the resistance becomes more difficult, revealing a fragile, vulnerable and wounded body, a body that can do nothing against the scars of contemporaneity.
The latest attempt to close Pandora's box, which was opened because of the trickery of inquisitiveness, fails once again, but that does not mean that one should stop trying. Or, at least, this is what Halida Boughriet teaches us.


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