Latifa Echakhch (b. 1974, El Khnansa, Morocco) is an artist based between France and Switzerland, and is a creator of installations. Echakhch’s notoriety grew in recent years thanks to her participation in the 54th Venice Biennale, along with her achievements of winning the Prix Marcel Duchamp in 2013, and the Zurich Art Prize in 2015.
Echakhch tends to produce installation pieces that are in direct connection with the space they inhabit, thereby blending personal, multicultural, historical and sociological references. Through her installations and environments, she invites the spectators to reflect upon the rigidity and contradictions of society. Echakhch overlaps politics with poetry – which she defines as her main instruments – de-contextualising objects filled with symbolic meanings. The interpretation of her artworks is left open: anyone can project into it his/her own memories, beliefs, claims. She encourages us to go beyond simple appearances and simplistic understandings that are too often imposed on us by contemporary society and the media, thereby inviting us to see the history of the world through its minute details, which will allow us new insights, perspectives and readings. Echakhch’s language is sensitive, but surprisingly powerful through the apparent contradiction of her desire to use modest materials such as, sugar, tea glasses, carpets, stencils and food colouring agents.
The work that won her the Prix Marcel Duchamp was an installation at the Espace 315 of the Centre Pompidou, Paris – consisting of a long rectangle reminiscent of a camera obscura, where the images are upside-down – which questioned the notions of “behind the scenes” and imprint. The sculptural elements of Donner un peu plus de moi-même (Give a bit more of myself) composed a dramatic scene, transforming the exhibition space into an oneiric and suspended landscape. During the audience member’s stroll inside the installation, the visitor could discover childhood souvenirs among black comic strip clouds which give the sensation of being in a weird dream where you are floating, confusing the “above” and the “below”, the “behind” and the “front”. Black is a colour that she often uses as a filter, symbolising the past and finished actions, as well as potential future actions.
Impacted by current migration and humanitarian dramas, Echakhch presented an installation at a Protocinema space in Istanbul, with two video works that thematised the sea as a bearer of hope. The images of dramas involving refugees also played a major role in the conception of an exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv: Screen Shot, using the motif of “Les Géants”. Another new work for an exhibition at the same museum, the artist addresses the “Géants” and “Gigantes” that appear in Romanic folk traditions. These figures, up to four metres tall, mostly symbolising king and queen, or other representative characters, are carried through the town in processions and festive parades. Echakhch removes them from their original context, and positions them in the museum’s entrance hall. Giant-sized and with a skin colour that cannot be definitively identified, they personify the foreign per se; the other.
An installation in 2011, at Kamel Mennour’s gallery in Paris, called Tkaf owes its name to a Moroccan dialect that uses it to designate a kind of evil spell made by a loved one. It consisted in bricks thrown onto the floor of the gallery, which visitors could walk upon till they were transformed into powder. This was the same powder that the artist used to soil the walls of the gallery. The inspiration came from a sanctuary close to El Jadida, Morocco, where people still practice sorcery, and where Echakhch found handprints made with red argil on the ground. Her thoughts pivot around certain uses of contemporary art that are object to sacralisation. On the same wavelength, Tambours, 2012, round pieces with different-sized black ink drops, that reverse the original idea of tondo situated once on ceilings as reference to the heavens.