Meriem Bennani Siham drinking Fanta citron (2017). Courtesy the artist and SIGNAL

Meriem Bennani Siham drinking Fanta citron (2017). Courtesy the artist and SIGNAL

Meriem Bennani

Siham & Hafida

16 May – 14 July 2018


Stanley Picker Gallery is pleased to present Meriem Bennani’s immersive video installation Siham & Hafida, the first presentation of this work outside of the US. Commissioned by The Kitchen, New York, Siham & Hafida will travel to 6th Les Ateliers de Rennes – Contemporary Art Biennale, Rennes, in September 2018.

Shot by the artist on handheld camera, Siham & Hafida juxtaposes the raw essence of docu-style TV with surreal digital animations to narrate the intergenerational complexities of evolving cultural forms, embodied by two popular Moroccan chikha singers of different ages. Its presentation in the Gallery takes the form of a multi-channel projection that overlaps walls with large-scale scale props as a series of interconnected screens, creating a dynamic and playful expanded-cinema effect throughout the whole space.

Historically, chikhates – female singers of the Moroccan aita music tradition – provided entertainment for important celebrations. Their lyrics, written in an Moroccan dialect, would relay subversive messages of resistance against French colonial rule, which ended with Morocco’s independence in 1956. Due to its association with revolutionary ideals, aita was perceived as a controversial musical genre representative of female emancipation. In recent years, renewed attention has been paid to this tradition by younger generations, as the Moroccan government declared it part of the national heritage in an attempt to turn it into a form of popular entertainment. The repertoire of songs does not update, however, as no new aita music is being written. Contemporary executions thus seem to soften, if not disregard, the activist nature of original lyrics as the revolution called upon by these songs is a crystallised symbol of a long-gone past.

While they knew of each other, Siham and Hafida had never properly met up until Bennani brought them together in this film. Hafida, one of the most famous chikhates, represents and older, mostly illiterate, generation of performers whose knowledge and training has been passed down exclusively orally, transmitted through female bodies. Siham, on the other hand, is emblematic of a new social-media-savvy generation of chikhates with a contemporary take on this art. Siham was equally trained through oral tradition and Internet research – something of unconceivable for Hafida, who criticizes the younger singer’s lack of ‘actual training’. Bennani’s work offers an intimate view into the lives of these two women whose tension over the chikha tradition reflects greater, universal shifts in how local, historical traditions negotiate their legacy within contemporary globalised cultures.

Meriem Bennani  (b. 1988 in Rabat, Morocco) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Juxtaposing and mixing the language of reality TV, documentaries, phone footage, animation, and high production aesthetics, she explores the potential of storytelling while amplifying reality through a strategy of magical realism and humour. She has been developing a shape-shifting practice of films, installations and immersive environments, composed with a subtle agility to misappropriate the clichés of North-African culture. Her work questions our contemporary society and its fractured identities, gender issues and ubiquitous dominance of digital technologies. Bennani’s work has been shown at MoMA PS1, Art Dubai, the Shanghai Biennale, The Jewish Museum and The Kitchen in New York.

Siham & Hafida at Stanley Picker Gallery is produced in collaboration with Les Ateliers de Rennes – Contemporary Art Biennale.