French-Algerian colonial history, its aftermath, and the stereotypical portrayal of ‘the other’ in French art history are the overall focus of the Danish-French artist, Johannes Sivertsen’s first major solo show ‘The Unnamed’.
Having grown up in the suburbs of Paris, the artist has witnessed, at first hand, the consequences of the French colonial empire and experienced the reality among those left unrepresented and ‘without a voice’. As an artist, Johannes Sivertsen uses painting to create visual analogies constructing fictitious parallel worlds based on concrete persons and events that has been neglected in history writing.
In the exhibition ‘The Unnamed’, Sivertsen specifically addresses a fraught and untold part of French-Algerian history; that of the women. Sivertsen has worked to create a different representation of these women than the one, which for centuries, has emerged from classical European and, notably French, painting tradition by male artists where Middle Eastern women are portrayed as exotic objects of desire. Instead, Sivertsen dedicates his paintings to a wide spectrum of women in Algerian history from colonization (1830-1962) until the present.
‘The Unnamed’ presents a series of twenty-two portrait paintings in various formats, which stylistically mime that of French Romantic and Oriental painting. The motivic models for the paintings are based on art-historical icons, archive photos, film and texsts. Amongst the paintings, there is a portrait of Lalla Fatma N’Soumer, a freedom fighter opposed to the French conquest of Algeria between 1849 and 1857 and another one picturing Djamilla Bouhired, an officer in the National Liberation Front (FLN) and member of the so-called bomb squad. There are also portraits of anonymous female warriors, demonstrators, and activists in the present-day Algerian protest movement, Hirak, as well as representations of another and often forgotten heroic role: the housewife and the labour working woman.
With ‘The Unnamed’, Johannes Sivertsen examines the prevailing idea of the white male’s objective gaze and hence also the predefinition of his own gaze. He questions common visual modes of expression where dominance is partly inherited and partly deeply embedded in art history and painterly practices. By including Louerrad and Tamzali Tahari’s works, Sivertsen tries to pass on his privileged position and allow his own narrative to follow in the footsteps of the unnamed women who helped shape Algeria’s resistance movement against French colonial power, and thereby opening up the space for things he cannot think or paint himself.
Johannes Sivertsen (b.1984 in Paris) is a graduate from the Ateliers Beaux-Arts de La Glacière in Paris (2008) and at the Funen Art Academy (2014). Recent exhibition venues include the I:Project Space, Beijing, Specta gallery, Copenhagen, the JCE Biennale, Montrouge, and Ringsted Galleriet. Moreover, Sivertsen is part of the exhibition venue OK Corral.