S.M.A.K. invites French-Algerian artist Kader Attia at the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Textile course at KASK/School of Art at Hogent, Ghent. With Repairing the Invisible the artist shows a new installation of old fabrics that he collected during his many travels to Africa. They each carry manual reparations that are clearly left visible. The traditional reparation, and its inherent process of appropriation and exchange, is at the base of Attia’s ongoing exploration of notions of trauma and repair in our globalised society through the concept of ‘Repair’. The video Reflecting Memory, for which the artist won the Prix Marcel Duchamp in 2016 is also having its Belgian premiere in this exhibition.
It took me several years to understand, after having looked for a long time at a patched Congolese fabric from the Kuba ethnic group which is known as Nchakokot, that a repair is above all an anonymous signature. The signature of an individual intended for the social group to which he or she belongs, showing a relaxed attitude to the injuries, in other words, to the passage of time.
Since time torn fabrics, repaired with a patch that is sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes perfectly worked into the fabric in the same shade, or on the other hand, in stark contrast with the colorimetric nature of the fabric, are signatures of repairs that represent the opposite of what Western modernity has always upheld since the advent of the Age of Reason. Repairing means, etymologically, in Western culture, returning to the original state, therefore denying injury. In traditional, African and Asian societies and even ante-modern societies in the West, repairing meant that an injury was treated, and that repair was given an equally important role alongside the injury, in short, the injured object was given a second life.
That is the reason why repaired fabrics are, in my opinion, not only an object of study, but also a form of creation. I have been collecting these very old fabrics for years, mostly fabrics I came across in Africa, where I work regularly anywhere from Algiers to Dakar. Today, I am presenting them in this exhibition because the repairs of these fabrics teach us these things in silence that we have lost, this world we have chosen to leave behind, and which we try so very hard to forget… We are steeped in illusory beliefs like that of superiority through technology over traditional cultures.
Repair embodies all the political interest that structures exchanges of all kinds by our societies, since politics means ‘living together’: between men, the relationships of individuals to the group to which they belong, denial and perhaps even the future, since it embodies the fact of repeating the past in the future (a past future).
Traditional repair has always signed the passage of time, accepting it, through relief, with colour sometimes, the subtlety of pronounced detail which covers the injury to reveal it (sometimes even by reclaiming, or ‘cannibalisnig’ (to use that term so dear to Oswald de Andrade) the remnants of another culture) – as if it were necessary to live with it, accept it, not to be in denial; which is probably what our contemporary society ought to learn from these everyday objects: a metaphysics of everyday life. Because they tie us to this part of ourselves which never really disappeared..