Inimitable Algerian artist Rachid Koraïchi’s latest exhibition, Le Chant de l’Ardent Désir, is a transcendental and hypnotic experience that compels the viewer to examine our shared experiences of loss, nostalgia, human suffering and dignity.
It is difficult to describe the phenomenological experience of the encounter with the language of the Algerian artist Rachid Koraïchi.
A gateway to the unseen and the divine, his art is as aesthetically stunning as it is spiritually moving, and there are notions that Koraichi’s third US exhibition at New York’s Aicon Gallery, The Song of Ardent Desire , perfectly embodies in its presentation of four bodies of work spinning on the function of calligraphy and symbolic philology.
“Koraichi’s paintings and sculptures are precise, geometric and hypnotic meditative”
The title of the show is also the name of an eponymous series of six large-scale alabaster tablets that shimmer under subtle light. Their immaculate color recalls the salt lakes of the Tunisian desert or the solemnity of tombstones.
Alabaster was widely used in ancient Egypt – where it was associated with Bast (or Bastet), a protective deity – and in Mesopotamian cultures. At first heavy and majestic, on closer inspection, the works of art under The Song of Ardent Desire (2021) exude softness and sophistication.
On these 43×43 inch tablets we see detailed lace-like inscriptions that convey symmetry and the optical illusion of a portal to other realms. In these works, we recognize Koraïchi’s passion for attentive and respectful craftsmanship.
Intricate carvings, such as the nine circles of The Song of Ardent Desire II (2021) evoke a mystical map, guiding the imagery towards self-exploration echoing the presence of numerological clues and cosmological composition.
In the series The Vigilants, the Night (2021), the shapes of 14 corten steel sculptures painted black recall endangered human silhouettes. They cast long shadows on the ground, casting a reminder of residue and loss, an effect the artist had previously explored in The Prayer of the Absent (2013-2015).
Koraïchi captures the fragility of human life and individuality. Each sculpture incorporates unique traits and symbols into skeletal-like totem structures.
We feel haunted by their undefined absence and presence, an ambiguity that embraces an abstract form of existence, forcing our gaze to transcend the boundaries of the visible, the corporeal and the palpable.
The Vigilants, the Night…XIV (2021) shows a wide-legged figure as if the character seeks to anchor each of their legs to opposing shores or borders, with detail framing an area of the upper body that channels a sense of movement and the will to act .
Koraïchi further explores afterglow and enchantment in 14 stunning paintings in the series The Mountain of Stars (2021) – a name reminiscent of Jabal an-Nour near Mecca, or the Mountain of Light, where the Prophet Muhammad first received revelation.
the The Mountain of Stars The artworks, where golden white acrylic paint contrasts with a rich indigo background, explore fluidity of form, luminosity, dynamism and an attempt to capture a polyphony that speaks to the universal.
Their multidimensionality sometimes gives the appearance of ceramic tiles or traditional textiles. In The Mountain of Stars III (2021) Koraïchi draws an unconscious atlas, a sacred geography and an altar of celestial magnificence.
Koraïchi’s paintings and sculptures are precise, geometric and hypnotic meditative.
By affixing calligraphy, glyphs, ephemerides and semiotic characters, the artist pays homage to Arab, Amazigh and other heritages while reinterpreting a personal cosmology and an expression of the divine of Sufi inspiration.
Koraichi’s close engagement with the Quran underpins his understanding of scripture as a vehicle of faith, heritage and culture.
Language, as art, verb, humanity and the possibility of being together, imprints the exhibition and, in doing so, recalls Arab experiences in the history of modern art, such as the Hurufiyyah movement (himself even reviving the Hurufi movement of the 14th-15th centuries). which erected letters and calligraphy into objects of spirituality and mysticism). Koraïchi qualifies his work as an “alphabet of memory” which suggests composing a genealogy of becoming.
“Koraïchi captures the fragility of human life and individuality… We feel haunted by their undefined absence and presence, an ambiguity that embraces an abstract form of existence, forcing our gaze to transcend the limits of the visible, of the corporeal and the palpable”
The show follows the recent opening of a UNESCO-listed site, Jardin d’Afrique. The values of a shared humanity are not anecdotal in the life of Koraïchi because Jardin d’Afrique is a cemetery and a shelter that the artist designed in the south of Tunisia, on land he bought in 2018 , for migrants and asylum seekers who hope to find a better future north of the Mediterranean Sea.
“I wanted to help them get to heaven after the hell they went through,” he said in an interview, influenced by the words of his late grandfather who told him: “He who dies very rich has wasted his life because he did not know how to share.”
The site was inaugurated in June 2021 and, designed as a space of dignity and resistance to violence, includes a cemetery housing 200 white graves and a non-denominational prayer hall among olive trees and traditional grounds.
“His cemetery is not only a consolation for the lost souls of the Mediterranean and their loved ones, but it is also a work that expresses – better than a hundred speeches could do – a pain that must be shared between the north and the south”. wrote award-winning author David Diop.
Now based in Paris, France, the Algerian-born multimedia artist (b. 1947) won the Jameel Prize (2011) and exhibited his recent works at the Biennale de Marrakech (2016), two editions of the Biennale de Venice, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2015) in addition to the British Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other institutions.
In his work, Koraïchi often paid homage to Sufi masters like Ibn Arabi and Rumi, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and the Algerian author Mohammed Dib.
Knowing the artist’s commitment to freedom, solidarity and respect for human rights, the impressive woven tapestry, African Garden (2021), depicts an imaginary place of arrival as much as the desired horizon. African Garden depicts a circle floating in a body of water, framed by a square and a multitude of codes and scriptures that appear as epitaphs, ancient whispering and elegiac poetry to awaken a lost sense of empathy.
Koraïchi has transformed the gallery into a sanctuary and a spiritual journey. We reach the tapestry after passing the alabaster tablets and hollow sculptural ghosts of the series The Vigilants, the Night.
Koraïchi has symbolically reconstructed a map of his garden in southern Tunisia where brave souls, often anonymous, can finally rest and he asks us not to look away.
“The sublime is an experience in search of context”, wrote Simon Morley. What survives inside and outside the works are the illegible and indelible traces of common destinies.
Through a visual lexicon testifying to human suffering and dignity, Rachid Koraïchi invents a new performative grammar to challenge the limits of representation and indifference.
Farah Abdessamad is a New York-based essayist/critic from France and Tunisia.
Follow her on Twitter: @farahstlouis