Galeries Nomades, IAC Villeurbanne (2007)
The first impression given by Leslie Amine’s work is that of great freedom in the use of means, techniques and materials—nonetheless welded by reference to the sensitive quality of objects and their tactile dimension: they fill space, stretch in all directions like snakes, make you want to touch them, and the colors are always strong. Little video and no minimalism.
Here, art is visibly used for research that is not purely formal but that is personal and wishes to communicate. In and through its apparent eclecticism, Amine’s works address one of the most visible aspects of the contemporary world: the increasingly frequent mixing of people born under different stars and who have grown up in difference universes of signs (to avoid always using pompous and often inappropriate phrases such as ‘bearing different cultures’).
Almost every inhabitant of the world is now obliged to live at the crossroads of systems of meanings drawn from the most varied corners of the planet. This need is obviously more strongly felt by those who participate in this multiplicity in their personal lives—whether this involves ‘genetic’ origins or is the result of voluntary or forced geographic movement.
The question of ‘origins’ and ‘roots’ is then raised—a subject so easy to criticize from a theoretical viewpoint and so difficult to avoid in real life. Amine lets us know that she too belongs to one of these universes that would have horrified Maurice Barrès. This desire to know where we come from is entrenched—in certain people at least. But is it enough to learn your grandmother’s recipes or to ‘go back’ to countries that you have never seen before and find, perhaps, some sixth cousins? There has been, rightly, talk of the ‘invention of tradition’: a large proportion of so-called traditions have been invented or messed about with during the last two centuries with the aim of founding states. But ‘inventing tradition’ may also be a personal requirement, and perhaps there is more justification for this. It does not mean carving African masks or Romanesque statues again.
This journey into the past necessarily has an imaginary dimension. This is seen clearly in Amine’s work: there is no search for ‘authenticity’ but the taking into account of the mixing in which we live today, in Africa, in Europe or elsewhere. Indeed, she says that Marseilles is the most exotic place that she has known. In addition, the linguistic dimension and word play (‘Vivante à frique’) form an ironic dimension, keeping clear of cumbersome searches for an ‘identity’—generally synthetic—that are now so often dominant and that are having increasingly dreadful consequences.
So it is better to look for dreamed origins that one has chosen oneself or to at least feel nostalgia
for them. And any recoding is possible in this case: a European woman of African origin can draw inspiration from African works, which are in fact a reworking of European contributions, and go and propose the results in Africa… Broken mirrors and pieces of French flags—these two recurrent features in Amine’s works do not just refer to ‘immigrants’ broken dreams’ or something like that. We live in a world of fragments, in fragments, the ‘rationality of incoherence’ mentioned by Annie Le Brun.Both in Africa and in Europe. The world that Amine takes us into, with its cultural bric-abrac, is certainly not a problem of Africans or anybody else in particular, but of all people, who are becoming—everywhere and at all times—strangers in a world of supermarkets. The uprooting that can be complained about in ‘ex-colonial’ countries does not result solely from a violent imposition of western culture, as the thurifers of native identities—always ready to take power—would have us believe.
The disorientation among the formerly colonised is finally not very different to that felt everywhere. One culture is not triumphing over the others. It is rather that all the cultures in the world as a dimension of the qualitative and of meaning—both African masks and Gothic churches, both popular stories and great poetry—have given way to the unleashed forces of capitalism, markets and money, and also to the mass media and their colonisation of the imaginary.
These have formed the the backdrop of the unification of the world. Capitalist globalisation is neither a pleasant mixing of cultures—the soporific concept of multiculturalism—nor a victory of European culture. It does not oblige the whole
world to listen to Mozart or read Shakespeare. This global unity based on the breaking down and remixing of the human heritage is taking place under an advertisement for Coca-Cola or in front of a computer. The process does not take the form of an explosion of creativeness or of the moment at which the human spirit becomes aware of its fundamental unity (which is visible in many other ways) but is like a consequence of its fate as a commodity. Nothing is more ‘universal’, more immediately understandable and less ‘upsetting’ than a Coca-Cola advertisement. The ubiquitous supermarket thus forms contemporary ‘global culture’.
Leslie Amine has started to work on all this. She has taken the names of European stores to Africa to make installations; she has been a ‘word merchant’ in public in Benin. But perhaps she must, like many others, decide whether she chooses to be fascinated by this global patching up under the sign of commodities and collaborate with it or whether she prefers to look through this broken mirror to truly modern material and spiritual poverty