The photographic fauvism of Maya Inès Touam
About the exhibition "Les Choses qui restent", by Maya Inès Touam at the gallery Les Filles du calvaire, Paris, from 14 September to 28 October.
"The literary theorist Edouard W. Saïd (1935-2005) wrote: "No one today is just this or that, Indian, woman, Muslim, American, these labels are just starting points. A contemporary artist mixing painting and photography has made this her proverb. The hybridity of Maya Inès Touam's forms and works reflects the singularity of her heritage, as Jeanne Mathas explains to us this month in Artpress, the magazine of contemporary art. The art historian specialising in twentieth-century and contemporary art, researcher, teacher, critic and independent curator devotes an article to the French artist of Algerian origin Maya Inès Touam, who is the subject of a first solo exhibition from 14 September to 28 October 2023 at the Les Filles du Calvaire art gallery in Paris: "Les Choses qui restent".
Born in France of Algerian parents, Maya Inès Touam has built her work between the two shores of the Mediterranean. She draws on the visual repertoires of Africa and Europe, reinterpreting cultural circulation on both sides of the Mediterranean. She examines oriental aesthetics not from a neo-orientalist point of view, but from her own point of view as the granddaughter of emigrants: how can she capture an identity that is both intimate and foreign to her? After graduating from the Beaux-Arts in Paris in 2013, her initial research focused on Arab women and the ambivalence of their bodies and, through them, their position in the Arab and European worlds. The choice of the photographic medium quickly became obvious to the artist.
"In 2014, on discovering 19th century colonial photographs, she decided to travel to Algeria to meet these women who had only ever been represented through the eyes of Western men in search of orientalism," recalls Jeanne Mathas. "Over a period of several months, just over 200 women opened up to Maya Inès Touam, who was entrusted with the mission of repairing the image of a whole section of the population that had hitherto been invisible. The series Révéler l'étoffe (Revealing the Fabric) is built on an anthropological relationship with the image and its subjects. The exchanges are based on one question: what does the veil represent for each of them, a subject that has crystallised and continues to crystallise so many tensions. By revealing the fabric, the photographer pulls together the threads of a story that is both intimate and universal. There is also something eminently Ulyssian about this return to the land of her roots. Nourished by these encounters, the artist began her research around objects offered by these women. In a metonymic gesture, these became the new protagonists of the imagery that Maya Inès Touam has been building ever since.
The series Révéler l'étoffe, developed from 2014 to 2018, was supported by the French Institute, exhibited at the Bourse du Talent #67 at the BnF in 2016, and screened at the Voies Off des Rencontres d'Arles in 2018. Before being presented at the Musée National de l'Histoire de l'Immigration, in Paris, in April 2022.
Since 2017, using different media (photographs, drawings and sculptures in particular), Maya Inès Touam has been undertaking work that is both anthropological and dreamlike, creating artworks for sale with certain symbolic or personal objects as her starting point. She immerses herself in the roots of her origins, questioning and excavating them in order to draw images - often still lifes - from these fragments of history.
"In her first so-called Flemish photographs and in her sketches, the artist returns to the capitalist context that embraced the still-life genre in 17th-century northern Europe; to a consumerist society that inspired Marcel Duchamp to coin the now established term 'ready-made'. With an economy of motifs and means, she succeeds in telling the story of travelling objects, fetishes passed from hand to hand. In the first Flemish series, Ready Made (2017-19), the artist sets out to find formal and aesthetic associations," explains Jeanne Mathas. "In the Sanctuarium series (since 2018), the artist fuses still life and devotional painting. Colour is also more present. She is still grappling with drawing, but is opening the way to colourist research."
While Révéler l'étoffe placed the human figure at the centre of attention, his most recent works are concerned with the meanings of objects and their decontextualisation. The Replica series, for example, transports religious artefacts from various parts of Africa into the visual world of Flemish still lifes in 2020. European visual codes - chiaroscuro, drapery and studied compositions - shed new light on these objects. By aesthetising and desacralising them, Maya Inès Touam is contributing to the debate about the relevance of non-Western works in museums. The use of Christian religious art formats, such as altarpieces and pointed arches, further accentuates the relic-like character that the artist brings to her photographs.
The Ready Made series won an award from the Fondation Alliances in 2017 (LCC Program photography contest), in Morocco. Between 2018 and 2020, Maya-Inès Touam will carry out a series of five residencies at the Montresso Art Foundation, in Marrakech, to develop her work in this region. In 2018, she showed her research at the New York Portfolio Review on the initiative of the New York Times. That same year, she was nominated for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass as well as the Foam Paul Huf Award in Amsterdam. During her residency at the Fondation H - Paris, in spring 2021, she extended her research to the diasporas of the African continent in France, adding a postcolonial perspective on immigration to her work. She will pursue this line of research in 2022 during a residency at the Fondation Zinsou in Benin.
In 2021, she joined the Regards de la jeune génération sur les mémoires franco-algériennes group, at the initiative of Benjamin Stora, seeking to reconcile the different memories inscribed in the history of colonisation and the Algerian war.
At Les Filles du Calvaire gallery, Maya Inès Touam takes liberties. And she makes no apologies for it. In her exhibition "Les Choses qui restent", the Franco-Algerian artist and photographer shares her fascination with the history of Western art and offers a narrative in her own image.
Here, appropriation functions as a narrative strategy for a world in-between, in the image of those who share her experience of a life between two shores. Trained as an artist in France, Maya Inès Touam questions the value of the heritage she has bequeathed and her place in relation to the canon. What kind of creative space can be created for a woman artist and child of immigrants? To this end, Touam co-opts the processes and practices of the 16th and 20th centuries - from religious iconography to the colour experiments of Fauvism - but overturns the codes of the sacred in favour of the incredibly profane.
"Les Choses qui restent" is a collection of objects haunted by their cultural values and summoned for their symbolism. Through what she calls her "photographic fauvism", Touam proposes a new visual vocabulary, playful and rhizomic; a meeting between history, the contemporary moment and the imagination of a future without centres or peripheries.
Illustration: MAYA INÈS TOUAM FRANCE, 1988
ANANAS & JOUJOU, 2020
Fine Art print on Hahnemühle paper
Fine Art print on Hahnemühle paper
80 x 64 cm
Edition of 3 plus 2 artist's proofs