"Al-Tiba9" is a contemporary art event dedicated to the visual arts, in particular, painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, performance and fashion design, curated and organized since 2013 by Mo’ Mohamed Benhadj independent curator. Initially launched in Algeria, the event has been taking place in Barcelona for two years and over the years has become increasingly important worldwide. In this interview, Al-Tiba9’s curator returns to the 6th edition, recently organized in Barcelona featuring middle eastern and Western artists, and explains his artistic approach as well as the ambitions of this contemporary artistic event which loudly claims its roots.
Reporters: Since the 2017 edition, Al-Tiba9 is organized in Barcelona, while the first editions took place in Algiers, why this choice?
Mohamed Benhadj: First of all, you should know that Al-Tiba9, which means oxymoron, is an artistic approach based on the oxymoron of its own thought. Each edition is conceived, thought out and constructed as an artwork in its own right. This artistic manifestation is the result of aesthetic research; all disciplines and artistic creations come together to create a single ephemeral work that is constantly regenerated in each edition that is "Al-Tiba9". This concept of oxymoron (الطباق) is taking shape even in its perception of space and time. The transition to the West is only one phase of the overall construction of the project. I remind you that the last two editions are organized in Barcelona but four previous ones in Algiers. Al-Tiba9 is also the union of Arab and Western artists from different disciplines and techniques. This has been the case for all Al-Tiba9 editions. As I stated before, with this 6th edition, Al-Tiba9 opened an equation where the oxymorons met together: the West / East, Light / Shadow, Life / Death, all together in this new section of Al-Tiba9.
Reporters: The novelty, too, is the introduction of a new section, the Al-Tiba9 Contemporary Fashion Weekend. Can you give more precision on this?
Mohamed Benhadj: For its 6th edition, Al-Tiba9 announced the arrival of a new section, "Fashion Design" to represent more artists, named Al-Tiba9 Contemporary Fashion Weekend. This section has nothing of fashion or sense of classic styling. ACFW is a platform that promotes established and emerging independent designers from north Africa, the Middle east and from around the world. These designers are connected to contemporary perspectives established in the fields of fashion, art and performance. For these artists, this new section is a unique opportunity to be visible on a global avant-garde fashion platform. They are encouraged to leave, to intensify their artistic energies and to express their creative visions in reality where the impossible becomes possible in Al-Tiba9 venue. It is in this spirit that ACFW is a fashion weekend like no other, combining contemporary fashion and performance art with renowned designers. ACFW comes alive as part of the main edition with a weekend of fashion shows, live performance, exhibitions, and much more.
Reporters: How was the choice of artists from such diverse backgrounds, including a Jordanian from Amman, Japanese based in New York, a Belarusian based in Prague and a Russian in Moscow?
Mohamed Benhadj: I am very often asked this question. Al-Tiba9 is an artistic event whose participation is by invitation only. Generally, there is no open call for artists, nor a formal application process. However, we are open to hear from emerging artists who want to share an upcoming edition. Its goal is to promote and support emerging artists and their careers by offering them the opportunity to exhibit at Al-Tiba9. The choice of artists for the new Fashion design section follows the same selection logic: A strong avant-garde Arab presence and contemporary Western thought.
Reporters: Your performance this year revolved around the theme of death, could you enlighten us?
Mohamed Benhadj: My last performance is not only around the theme of death, certainly death is part of it, but it is rather around the burning news that we live in the Arab world. To put the events in their context, the 6th edition took place a week after the big celebration of the winner of Eurovision 2018, which was highly communicated by some media. On the other hand, at the same night of the celebration, what happens in Palestine, a humanitarian disaster, is completely overshadowed by the same media, as if the importance of human life seems to have escaped them. It is in this context that my performance naturally finds its place in the context of this 6th edition by a performance with real sound records of one of these nights, where Gaza is under the specter of death. The soundtrack is mixed by two Syrian artists based in Stockholm and Oslo. This performance is at the heart of four contemporary fashion presentations that begin with the presentation of Jordanian Farah Hourani, Fashion Arabia finalist. Farah completes the reading with an avant-garde experimental collection made of metal, steel, glass, to sublimate life as to generate a rebirth.
Reporters: How did all these start at first ?
Mohamed Benhadj: About my performances, it all started when I had to go abroad to continue my artistic studies. A few days before my departure, I made my performance about my departure, about the artist obliged to leave. This performance was the trigger for other performances where I position myself as an activist artist. It goes beyond the militant artist. For me, an activist artist is an artist who reacts to the actual, to the news that surrounds him. This was the same for my performance supporting Syrian refugees in Prague. I think that as artists, the issues that affect our part of humanity in the face of burning news, impose themselves. At least that's what makes my art and that's what I express.
Reporters: In the end, can we hope for a return to Algeria of Al-Tiba9 for its 7th edition?
Mohamed Benhadj: Al-Tiba9 did not leave Algeria, I always said it, and I repeat it again. I want to clarify that Al-Tiba9 is a purely Algerian approach. It's even an Algerian event. Certainly I live for a few years in Barcelona, but the curatorial, the birth and even the first edition took place in Algeria. It is important for me to emphasize that I am and I claim myself as an Algerian artist. I would also like to point out that Al-Tiba9 has become a much larger structure with a team of nine members from various horizons and countries including among them, the Italian artist seen at the 3rd and 5th editions, Luca Rossini. It should also be noted that the total number of people involved in the new Fashion design section during the 6th edition is 72 people. What I mean is that the Al-Tiba9 event is becoming more and more demanding and requires more and more resources and skills. Al-Tiba9 will not be able to return for the 7th edition under the same conditions as the 1st. This 7th edition will be, according to the human and material conditions deployed for the success of the event, either in Algeria, in Spain or even elsewhere.