Franco-Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed’s immersive installation features a group of 31 black chalk drawings of life-sized military figures with their guns drawn, surrounding visitors on all sides. Another drawing, Cri (2007), after Nick Ut’s famous photograph from the Vietnam War of the so-called “Napalm Girl,” was created by the artist especially for this project.
These exceptionally powerful graphic works by Abdessemed question violence and the symbolism of war images. The artist conjures from our memories an iconic photograph and allies himself with civilian victims of war and refugees. “I don’t talk, I don’t write, I scream,” he declared.
This installation is part the Year for Peace at the Museum, a vast programme of activities and exhibitions launched in November 2016 following the inauguration of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace. The fifth pavilion in the Museum complex, it was named after Michal and Renata Hornstein, major Museum patrons and Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada, land of asylum, just like Kim Phuc, the “Napalm Girl.” Today, Ms. Phuc works as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
Nathalie Bondil, the MMFA’s Director General and Chief Curator, explained: “This message of peace is a vital one, especially when the plight of refugees becomes a world-wide epidemic. Canada, like Montreal, is a voice for tolerance: our city has been a safe haven in the past and today has been designated a sanctuary city. Surrounded on all sides by the military, we become at once witnesses and targets.”
“I am grateful to be here to help celebrate this museum, which will educate through art for generations to come. Art reminds us we cannot forget the past, but we can change the future,” declared Kim Phuc during the exhibition opening on February 16.”
This project has received the support of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who conferred on Montreal the official status of sanctuary city on February 20, as well that of the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage.
The exhibition was organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the artist’s studio. The exhibition is curated by Nathalie Bondil, the MMFA’s Director General and Chief Curator.
Vue de l’installation Adel Abdessemed : Conflit, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. © Adel Abdessemed / SODRAC (2017) / Courtesy of the Artist and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv – Brussels. Photo : Denis Farley.
© Adel Abdessemed / SODRAC (2017) / Courtesy of the Artist and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv – Brussels
A bilingual illustrated publication has been produced by the MMFA with the support of the Battat Contemporary Gallery to accompany this presentation. Co-ordinated by Pascal Normandin, Head of Exhibition Administration at the MMFA, it features an introduction by Nathalie Bondil, an essay by Vincent Lavoie, full professor in the department of art history at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), as well as a never-before-published conversation between Kim Phuc, Adel Abdessemed, Hélène Cixous, professor, writer, poet and literary critic, and Philippe Dagen, art history professor at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and visual arts critic for Le Monde.
The exhibition is part of the programming for the Year for Peace at the Museum, a presentation of BMO Financial Group in collaboration with the Brian Bronfman Family Foundation. The Museum acknowledges the essential support provided by Air Canada, the MMFA’s Volunteer Association and the Young Philanthropists’ Circle, proud supporters of the Museum’s contemporary art programme.
The Year for Peace programming reaffirms the Museum’s humanist values and its commitment to promoting peace, diversity, social inclusion and embracing our differences.
“A symbol of state violence and a masterpiece of photojournalism, this photograph captures a military blunder. Convinced that the Northern forces were hiding in Trang Bang, near Saigon, the Vietnamese Air Force set out to bomb the village pagoda on June 8, 1972. The first bomb hit the temple, sending terrified allied troops and civilians fleeing from there. A second air drop of four napalm bombs followed soon after. From the smoke and flames emerged a group of five children, among whom was little Kim Phuc, age nine. She ran towards Nick Ut, a photographer affiliated with the Associated Press, and he immortalized the whole scene with a picture. The photograph was shown in newscasts the same evening and then published the following day on the front pages of newspapers around the world,” wrote Vincent Lavoie, full professor in the department of art history at UQAM. Photographer Nick Ut, who was born in Vietnam and later became an American citizen, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Rescued by Nick Ut, Kim Phuc spent fourteen months in Saigon’s American hospital; she will continue to need treatment her whole life. From childhood to adolescence, she was used for propaganda by the communist regimes before asking for political asylum in Canada in 1994. Now a Canadian citizen, she is the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and works to help child victims of war through the Kim Foundation International (kimfoundation.com).
A French national, Adel Abdessemed was born in 1971 in Constantine, Algeria. He trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Batna, then in Algiers and Lyons. His work has been shown at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London. In 2012, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, hosted a major retrospective of his work. In 2015, he took part in the 56th Venice Biennale. His work can be found in prestigious collections, including the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in Geneva, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Fondation François Pinault in Venice and the Fondation Yuz in Shanghai.