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globe logo     Caravan: Newsletter of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World
Number 4 October 1999

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The Artist:
Mohamed Guesmia - 'Gues' (Algeria)

photo of GuesThread after thread the screen becomes a carpet. The feverish fingers knot and re-knot the velvety spread of delicate colours into secular symbols. As a child, these hands joined those of his attentive mother who laid the foundation for a weave for winter nights. Mohamed Guesmia’s life was thus woven with sensitivity in his tender youth. His hands, as though to continue with a family ritual, spread out over leaves of pastel shades, readily aroused. Everything seems to float in his paintings, his free-limbed people, scraps of bodies that invite caresses. Gues’ world is almost unreal, parallel to daily life. We get the impression that Algerian realities do not interest him. Nevertheless, his living and working conditions are deplorable. He lives from day to day, as a "freelance" artist as he willingly declares himself. With strength and intuition, he takes social constraints and alters them into vapour, stripped beings, capturing the aura that is released by errant forms that wander in the badly maintained streets, where infants and those rendered beggars by the economic crisis sleep.

A graduate of 1982 from the National School for Fine Arts in Algiers, Gues still remembers the day of his examination at the school when he went to drink a coffee and write a warm letter to a friend rather than draw under the eyes of some supervisor. This revolt against institution and against the influence of the plastic arts, he rediscovered it much later by becoming the instructor of a children’s group in Casbah, in the design studios of the National Museum for Popular Arts and Traditions of Algiers. The freedom and respect for children led to an exhibition of monotypes. To survive his status as an artist, he undertook "tinkering jobs" to meet his material needs. Once the atmosphere of the Museum where he filled the post of decorator and instructor had become too "damp", with mediocrity gaining over ground that had been conquered with difficulty, he left the comfort of a monthly cheque sponsored by the State for ceramics studios, where, reorganising the aesthetic values of the manufacturers at the time, he created unique pieces. Rediscovering his white beginnings, he took to painting once again, in his father’s studio (who too had created traditional motifs). The studio was barely 1 metre wide by 2 metres long. He sometimes wistfully looked back at the years in the Fine Arts School where, with his friends, daily life was shared in slices of poetry.

The intimate exhibition orchestrated with the music of Sinatra in 1983, the experiment of the Blida footstool, and the open space of the El-Wassit exhibition in Riadh El Feth in 1986, his studio in the National Museum for Popular Arts and Traditions in 1988 are some of the bearings for this artist painter, ceramist, sculptor, and exhibition designer who practices his artist’s profession with honesty and without any pretension.

In 1996, he participated in a performance entitled "Derives" (Drifts), directed by the artist Omar Meziani and put up in the dunes of Youfa Hakit, to the south of Tamanrasset (Sahara), a performance on which a documentary was made by Hamid, Kechad. In 1998, he resumed his work with children by opening a graphic expression studio. This time, the students were "victims of terrorism". This performance would be followed by the participation in the direction of a feature film called "Dessine-moi une orange" (Draw me an orange).

What silence does he carry and what quest is he in pursuit of? For Gues, painting involves personal expression, to each to see what he needs to see. To be true to oneself is one of the sacred bases for his pictorial journeys.

(Adapted from a text by Omar Meziani that was published in ‘Algerie actualites’)

untitled oil painting GuesOil painting, untitled, Gues, 1999
Illustrated text by Hamid Kechad, an Algerian journalist who traces a beautiful and sad Tuareg legend

The dying caravaneer now keeps no trace of history:
"In the biting cold of the plateaux of Tassili,
She stood in the midst of a closed circle of goats.
She, the most fearful of the herd.
Gently rested her small head on the throbbing breast.
There was silence among the beasts
Then the unbearable wait for the jackals
And then sleep.
Meriem had thus for a long time transformed adversity into a passion to while away her nights and days.
She got married.
Became a burden to the transhumance of the tribe.
That day, the caravaneer lost his heart and soul.
That day the caravaneer took her away.
Aside, without a word, gave her two fistfuls of dried dates.
Immured her amidst large stones...
Ever since, trackers of the stories of the Oueds
shiver along the journeys of basalt;
the song of Meriem."
Blocks of stone.

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