7 Shows Not to Miss at Les Recontres d’Arles 2016
From queer history to Nollywood culture and PJ Harvey's artist book.
The annual Les Recontres d’Arles festival is best known for exhibiting previously unpublished photographers who oftentimes get discovered thanks to exposure through these exhibitions. The love child of photographer Lucien Clergue, author Michel Tournier, and historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette, the festival was founded in 1970 and has quickly gained international reputation, bringing in 93,000 visitors last year.
Spaces used at Les Recontres d’Arles are often fabricated specifically for the exhibitions on view, though sometimes the festival utilizes the exceptional setting of 19th century chapels and 12th century industrial buildings, which would not generally be accessible to the public.
In an age of ever-changing digital and modification technology, Les Recontres d’Arles constantly finds innovative ways of delivering the photographic medium to a contemporary audience. We take a look at some of the most interesting shows and freshest photographic talents exhibiting at this year’s edition of the festival.
1. Sincerely Queer: Sébastien Lifshitz Collection
French screenwriter and director Sébastien Lifshitz has gathered a series of amateur photographs depicting gender experimentation from the 19th century up to the 1970s. In an age where cross dressing and gender fluidity have become more openly visible, it is important to admire the brave people who shaped the rocky history of this community and made it what is it is today. During the times when individuals and communities were not able to express themselves in public, they did so privately in front of the camera, as captured in Lifshitz’s sincere collection of photographs.
2. Basma Alsharif
This exhibition by multimedia artist Basma Alsharif highlights the inherent connections between the nomadic origins to her artworks. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, Alsharif grew up between France, the United States, and the Gaza strip. The sense of being from everywhere and nowhere is relayed in her photographs, which create environments that convey a feeling of being comfortable and foreign at the same time. Alsharif’s use of material is also sporadic as she juggles everything from photography, film, and video, to sound, language, and performance.
3. Marie Angeletti
Young photographer, film maker, and installation artist Marie Angeletti understands the relationship between contemporary image circulation and individual narrative. Her work often captures a surface image, behind which lays a story that is not immediately apparent. Angeletti recognizes the rapidity of digital image consumption, and attempts to slow this process down by only allowing her audience a visual of the surface of the narrative—imitating the act of looking at the cover of a book or a still from a film.
4. Tear My Bra: Drama and Fantasy in Nollywood Movies and Their Influence on Cultural and Visual Storytelling
This unusual exhibition serves as a tribute to Nollywood—a sobriquet for the Nigerian commercial film industry—which produces thousands of films and circulates billions of dollars each year. With its low budgets, Nollywood films are marked by poor aesthetics, sham special effects, and bizarre twists on classic Western plotlines.
While Western movies show an ever-increasing production value with rising budgets and improved technology, the continued demand for films such as those produced in Nollywood exemplifies the interest in the globalization of aesthetics, in particular those of West Africa. The title “Tear My Bra” refers to the over-dramatic nature of Nollywood titles and scenarios, which contribute to the aesthetics of the artworks included in this exhibition.
5. Fabulous Failures: The Art of Embracing Serendipity and Mistakes
Dutch artist, designer, and curator Erik Kessel has organized an exhibition that breaks up the perfection-obsessed contemporary visual landscape by eshowing art that celebrates the flawed. From filters to editing software, today’s technology assures a way to polish images until they look “just right.” In this exhibition, Kessel gathers a collection of works that challenge the concept of the flawless image, offering the possibility of beauty in imperfection, mistakes, and even in failure.
6. Sarah Waiswa: Stranger in a Familiar Land
Kenya-based documentary and portrait photographer Sarah Waiswa is interested in challenging the African narrative by exploring the new African identity. In this particular series titled “Stranger in a Familiar Land,” Waiswa photographs an albino African woman in order to shed light on the persecution of albinos in Sub-Saharan African. People often fear what they do not understand, and this phenomenon stands as a perfect example—albino Africans are often hunted for their body parts, which are thought to possess magical powers.
This series depicts the woman in a dream-like state as a response to her forced alienation. The backdrop for the shoot is the Kibera slums, which create a double narrative; suggesting not only the subject’s sense of non-belonging, but also the artist’s uneasy feeling towards the outside world.
7. PJ Harvey & Seamus Murphy: The Hollow of the Hand
This exhibition is the result of a collaboration between British singer, author, and composer PJ Harvey and Irish photographer Seamus Murphy. From 2011 to 2014, the duo traveled through the very diverse locales of Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington, D.C.
During these travels, Murphy collected images, and PJ Harvey collected words for later use in poems and song. Out of these, a publication named “The Hollow of the Hand” was born, bearing the contrasting visions of destruction and conflict with those of power and fractured societies.
This exhibition of poems, photos, and films goes beyond pure reporting—it serves as an artistic gesture of communicating realities to an audience that has not experienced it.
“Les Recontres d’Arles” will have exhibitions on view around the city of Arles, France until September 25, 2016.
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