Kerstin Pinther

Kader Attia: Indépendence Tchao (2014). 11th Dakar Bienniale in Senegal

Slow Decay of a past Utopia


Today it is a well-known fact, that architecture and urban planning were integral parts of colonial rule. In this sense, for example, Le Corbusier's undated sketch of a high-rise phalanx from Paris via Marseilles to Algiers and south to sub-Saharan Africa to Gao in Mali means a marker of the French (colonial) territory. Architecture and urbanism also became key techniques in Africa for the subjugation and assimilation of the local population. The earliest colonial construction measures in Algiers, for example, were in line with the military requirements of the occupation. With his installation and photographs Kader Attia tackles the ambivalent architectural legacies of European architects and urbanists in Africa: What social and political afterlife do they unfold? What is their current status? Who is claiming them for themselves, whose heritage are they?

  • Kerstin Pinther
    Kerstin Pinther

    As a miniature, the sculpture Indépendence Tchao (2014) by the Franco-Algerian artist Kader Attia refers to the Hôtel de l'Indépendence in Dakar, Senegal. At the beginning of the1970s – a little over ten years after the independence of the west African country under Lépold Sédar Senghor and a few years after the first Festial Mondial des arts nègres (1966), the hotel was built by Henri Chomette and Roland Depret. Since the end of the 1940s and into the 1980s, the office of the French architects had built governemental and private buildings and others in numerous African countries. Indépendence Tchao was initially created as a site-specific installation on the occasion of the 11th Dakar Bienniale in Senegal. It refers back to the hotel high-rise with the sculpture; the ‘borrowing’ can immediately be recognized, above all by its characteristic brise-soleil façade. Kader Attia used discarded and somewhat rusty inex index boxes, stacked on top of each other. The inventory of the archive itself came from a dissolved administration in Algeria. Only a few kilometres away from the central exhibition venue of Dak'Art, the hotel still forms a striking, decidedly 'modern' architectural antithesis to the flat neo-classical colonial administrative buildings - an aesthetic incunabulum that symbolized the future in its outstanding verticality and modern furnishings. However, the former architectural icon is now empty and in a state of decay. Indépendence Tchao (the title is a reference to the famous song Independence Cha-cha from 1960/Kalle) thus refers both to a utopia that has grown fragile, the bursting of a dream; as well as to the persistence of colonial archiving and (also structural) standardization practices, to old and new (architect) networks in the postcolony.

    Two further - this time photographic - works by the same artist also address the ambivalences and potentials of modern architectural promises:


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    In the case of the photograph of a woman (?) on the left, seen from behind, surrounded by the mighty arcades of the 200-column courtyard, the connection between the body as the 'first architecture' and the 'built' architecture is central. Not least through the title Pascale, Fernand Pouillon, Alger (2012), it becomes apparent that the person is a transsexual. According to Attia in an interview, the strangeness in one's own body corresponds to the 'architectural' alienation that the inhabitants of the 'Climat de France' who had resettled from the Kasbah in Algier must have felt in the 1950s; the necessity of appropriation, re-territorialisation or even 'becoming at home' applies to both bodies (the human and the architectural).


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    A reflection on transgression and imagination also lies at the centre of another photo: Déconstruir - Reinventer (2012) actually shows only the results of a minimal intervention in the standardized construction method, and yet these traces of spatial action are marked here as meaningful in the sense of aesthetic place-making.