Zoulikha Bouabdellah


Emma Cohen

Born in Moscow in 1977, Zoulikha Bouabdellah was raised in Algeria until the age of 16, when her family became exiles in Paris. She received her training at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Cergy in France and currently lives and works in Casablanca. Working in diverse media including video, prints, photography, painting, and installation, Bouabdellah has been featured in numerous group shows, solo exhibitions, and biennials around the globe.

While her works are often subversive, they are not accusatory. She creates images with ambiguous implications that challenge a myopic worldview, inviting the viewer to think critically about gender, identity, and religion.

Croisée-f-Crossing, 2005 Video on DVD, Edition 2/3 5 min, color Courtesy of Zoulikha Bouabdellah
Croisée-f-Crossing, 2005
Video on DVD, Edition 2/3
5 min, color
Courtesy of Zoulikha Bouabdellah

Inspired by a 2004 tourist visit to Syria during which Bouabdellah was struck by the religious harmony of Muslims and Christians in the country, Croisée-f-Crossing is a silent and deceptively simple video. The frame is filled with the face of the artist wrapped in a white veil, leaving only her kohl-rimmed eyes bare. Slowly, the woman uncovers her mouth and begins to pull a string of beads from her lips, her eyes conveying increasing discomfort, until at last a crucifix emerges. Like many of Bouabdellah’s works, the video is full of apparent contradictions. Symbols from Islamic and Christian traditions coexist in one space, perhaps mirroring the harmony from which the piece was inspired; yet the disquieting difficulty with which the artist removes the crucifix seems to point to the fact that harmonious coexistence of different communities is often complex. The video includes what has become the controversial image of the veil, yet refuses to make a judgment on it one way or another. The woman is in one respect the vessel of the cross and the object of our gaze, yet, at the same time, she is not passive and holds the viewer in her own gaze. As the title suggests, the video is full of knotted crossings—between the inside of the body and the outside, between cultures, between possible interpretations—and it is up to the viewer to untangle them.