Hamza Bounoua talks to Artscoops about the inspiration that his Algerian roots continue to provide and how his ideas about achieving success and satisfaction on the art scene have changed over the years.
Algeria’s colour codes, from the blue sea and sky to the golden sands and sun, are hallmarks of your work. What do you think your roots and the rich culture of your homeland bring to your work?
There is a saying that the “human is the son of his home”. Whether we’re artists or not, our life is tied to the place where we were born and raised. The influence of this environment is clearly manifested in the creative subjects explored in art, our way of thinking and how we express our thoughts.
Algeria has a magnificent geographic diversity that helps artists in their work and acts as an important source of inspiration. It has produced enormous cultural diversity, providing opportunities for artists to create contemporary, high-quality art with a significant cultural dimension to it, alongside a special intellectualism that spans the cultural domains, offering a wealth of different topics and means of expression.
You are also known to be inspired by calligraphy (letters) in abstract form and geometrical shapes, used in regular sequence – a practice that inevitably involves application, technique and patience. Do you find it challenging to combine this precise way of working with the soft, yet powerful movements of colours that feature in your works?
I studied at the School of Fine Art in Algiers – a prestigious school from where a long list of artists and creators graduated – and was able to learn a great deal from the talented artist-professors working there. The academic work I did in my student days, from drawing to application and theoretical techniques, was incredibly important. As a contemporary artist with a unique style, I always felt confident about the path I wanted to follow. I strongly believe that a good artist should ensure that the techniques they choose serve to bring their ideas to fruition rather than allowing the techniques to drive the art.
How did the Covid-19 affect your creativity?
The Covid-19 pandemic was a very difficult and challenging time for artists worldwide and Algeria was not spared. For me, it was a period of cultural poverty, with art shows halted and spaces closed. However, looking back at times of crisis in history, such as plagues, wars and expulsions, when artists suffered it didn’t kill their motivation. In fact, they often produced a spell of great creativity and a reinvigoration of artistic tendencies, even leading to important new art movements being founded. I believe this supports the idea that the works created during a crisis can be among the best.
The Covid-19 period provided me, as an artist, with a chance to question my work, review my ideas from different angles and search for solutions on the technical and intellectual side of artistic innovation. It was an opportunity to conquer boredom by attempting to create something different, deep and great. I am proud of having achieved a great deal during the pandemic, including several milestone projects, from taking part in the second Dafen Art Biennale in China to launching the Diwaniya Art Gallery in Algeria, including its participating at the Egypt International Art Fair, Cairo, among others.
You have achieved many milestones in your career. What do you regard as the highlights so far?
Over the years, as I’ve matured, I’ve come to understand that diversity, rather than competition in the art market, is the basis for arts. This really hit home after I founded the Diwaniya Art Gallery in Algeria in September 2020. What sets the gallery apart is our overall aim of enhancing the art movement in Algeria and helping to carve a niche for our country as a regional centre for art, rather than focusing solely on accommodating Algerian artists. At Diwaniya, we want to provide support for new regional talents in North Africa and the Middle East by highlighting their work and promoting it on a wider scale.
Diwaniya is also focused on fostering contemporary thought and new techniques and styles. We plan to launch projects in the future where participants will be able to share their thoughts on art, culture and other topical issues in working sessions and discussion panels, reinforcing our belief that artists supporting other artists is a key ingredient for success. These projects will also send out a message of solidarity across the local and global art movements.
Tell us about how your love for the great poets and their words have inspired some of your landmark works.
The solo exhibition ‘Colored Poems’ is part of a series that I worked on previously to revive the work of some of the most important Arab poets. These included greats such as Nizar Qabbani, from Syria, the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish and the Iraqi Adib Kamel Eddine. The series also included a local collaborative project with the Algerian poet and media expert, Ibrahim Seddiki, in the form of a book, titled ‘Hourouf Tatajaraa’ (Letters that Dare).
My expo in Dubai in the Gallery Kalimate has a different dimension to it, with inspiration for the series provided by the pictorial elements that feature in the poems of Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Transforming the verses of these poems, with their all-encompassing messages on themes spanning humanity and love, into paintings, was a very different and wonderful experience. I will also be participating next month in the landmark exhibition ‘Artbook’ in Doha with 34 Arab artists, which consists of reformatting books into creative visual works, aimed at sharing the message with audiences that books can communicate messages through powerful visual images as well as through words.
You have been asked to take on the role of Curator for Algeria’s eighth International Festival of Contemporary Art in December. What are your hopes for this important event?
The International Festival of Contemporary Art in Algeria will provide a wonderful opportunity for Algerian artists – especially emerging talents – to meet and mingle with international creatives. It will also give us the chance to put the local art movement on the map at what will undoubtedly be an important regional event. I’m deeply grateful to the Algerian Ministry of Culture for selecting me for this role and, more broadly, supporting the arts through numerous projects aimed at promoting cultural diversity. Her Excellence the Minister of Culture, Dr Soraya Mouloudji, who works tirelessly to boost art activity in Algeria and raise the profile of local artists, deserves a special thanks.
What are you currently working on?
I am also preparing to take part in an art symposium in Jordan which coincides with my solo exhibition at Wadi Finan Gallery there and opens on June 3rd, 2023.