i was in driss ouadahi’s studio

in düsseldorf working on his upcoming show and the catalog we’re publishing to go with it.

driss is algerian of berber descent who immigrated to europe to study with michael buthe at the kunstakademie.

the first work i saw, the beginning of driss’ mature work, were images of  enormous public housing developments in algiers that had been modeled on France’s habitation à loyer modéré (public housing). in north africa, these monoliths are filled with displaced rural populations; in europe,  immigrants from former colonies.

they’re paintings of the ubiquitous high-rise.   about modern architecture’s failure to deliver on its promise to improve the human condition.  they’re symbols of the politics of class and ethnicity.   reminders of “otherness.”    these are some images that driss shot in algiers:  and related paintings:




the residents are neatly invisible behind the facades…   but even when there’s transparency, the lattice separates the viewer from the view.   this could be a reference to the mashrabiya — the screened windows in traditional north african and middle eastern architecture.   or to steel frame construction, scaffolding or barred windows.    but it’s certainly about a boundary not easily crossed.



in our upcoming exhibition, in  addition to the city-scapes driss has been painting in the last few years, we’ll have renderings of chain-link fences that are minimalist and abstract and about separation…


as well as depictions of tiled passageways from subway systems like the paris métro.  they’re fluorescent-lit, grimy and claustrophobic.  ostensibly their purpose is to allow movement from one place to another, but they feel more like blocked escape routes or morgues. they speak to restricted mobility in a supposedly global culture.


they’re gorgeously painted paintings.  but they address dehumanization.  literally, they are devoid of people. metaphorically, they speak to separateness and the unwillingness to recognize the humanity in those who are different.


DRISS OUADAHI  —     “Densité”        1 October – 13 November 2010

a 48-page, cloth-bound catalog with an essay by kim levin and forward by joseph rosa will accompany the exhibition and will be available through the gallery.