Artist Talk: Farah Khelil

25 March 2021 | 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm

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Photos: TASAWAR Archive


2021 |, Foundation Fiminco
2021 |, Cité Internatuional des Art

2020 |, Espace d’art contemporain
2020 | Amman.jr, MMAG Foundation
2020 |, Selma Feriani Gallery

2019 | Abu Dhabi.uae, Warehouse 421
2019 |, Le Cube
2019 |, B7L9

STUDIES, University of the Arts La Sorbonne, PhD, Art Academy, MA


Born in Tunis-Carthage.

Andréan Bégin: L’impossible syndrome de Stendhal:
Portrait de Farah Khelil (in French). 10 February 2021.

Translation: & Bettina Pelz

Farah Khelil is an artist. Farah Khelil is a researcher. Farah Khelil is not an archivist. Farah Khelil is a woman. Farah Khelil used to be a painter, but has emancipated herself from painting. Farah Khelil is a translator of emotion. Farah Khelil is Tunisian. Farah Khelil is not a historian. Farah Khelil is a little punk. Farah Khelil is not at the service of memory. Farah Khelil is a philosopher who formulates ideas and expresses them with artistic forms rather than with words. Farah Khelil is an ontologist, and things are things for themselves.

Farah Khelil’s work is a protean materialization of the artist’s intuitions. The mediums used – photography, installation, drawing, sound composition, writing – are as varied as the sources the artist uses: historical or personal archives, found objects, documentary photographs. This great diversity which merges under her hands allows her to play with several levels of reading and perception. Each work is a universe in itself, where micro and macro stories meet through artistic gesture.

In Farah Khelil’s personal story, everything begins when she arrives in Paris. Before that, she studied Fine Arts in Tunis, where she learned to master the traditional artistic techniques that at the time were the norm in Tunisia. Her artistic practice is then centered around painting, a hyperrealist painting. Her artistic knowledge is impregnated with the study of Western art history.

In Paris, she arrives at museums, and in front of the works she realizes that she already knows them, that she has already been moved, that she has already vibrated when reading the explanations of these works. Some visitors can suffer psychological decompensation in front of masterpieces, it is the syndrome of Stendhal, but Farah Khelil is immune. She may look, but she is physically present but emotionally elsewhere. She is in the books of art history that she studied at length, she travels from reproductions to reproductions of these masterpieces. This silence allows the question of the encounter with the work to emerge. At what point does one encounter an artwork? When do we see it for the first time? Do we really see it and only by facing it? This questioning of the gaze and perception is reminiscent of Denis Diderot’s Lettre ‘Sur les aveugles à l’usage de ceux qui voient’. In front of a painting, one can not understand it, not be touched by it, even if one has already studied it. Even a blind person who would find the sight will need time to make the synthesis between what he could live before and what his eye discovers now.

But let’s get back to Farah. We are in 2007 and this year marks the death of painting in Farah Khelil’s practice. This death is fertile, since it is actually a birth, the founding act of everything she creates since, an awakening that will allow her to define her intellectual and artistic posture. Farah Khelil becomes aware of the influence of the media culture of Western art in Tunisia. Media in the sense that Western art is examined in all its forms, and that she has access to it through visual or textual analyses. Between her and the works, there is always another medium. This imposed distance leads Farah to reflect on the notion of impact, of the impact that artworks have on us. Farah’s work is all about the question of reception, and the different postures that make it possible: a point of view or a point of listening. A bit like Joseph Kosuth who gathers the chair, its image, and its definition, Farah Khelil’s practice integrates into the work its own media. The content of Farah Khelil’s work is that of a constant exploration of the device of exposure, transmission, and translation. The content is at the service of the container, it is a pretext for the artist, to allow her to bring to life in her works her desire to share, to exchange.

Here intervenes the question of the Tunisian identity, and it is in a logic of decolonization that it questions its heritage, in particular artistic and cultural very largely marked by the Western domination. This duality, Farah Khelil also knows how to put it at the service of its creative purpose. This is the case with the series ‘Viewpoint’, ‘Listening Point’ (Clichés II), initiated in 2012, in which Farah Khelil uses souvenirs of tourism in Tunisia. Found in France, she uses postcards that to her are not archives, but a building material for the artist. She cuts out shapes that appear on the image side of the postcard. Always presented on the text side, playing on what is visible and what is legible, the postcards give to see initially figurative voids, but which become abstract once the card is turned over.

Point of view, point of listening (Clichés II), 2013-2019

This technique of the lack, the hollow, is found in other pieces by Farah. For example, the series ‘Surface Effect’ (2018) is a set of laser-drawn educational art history slides. The laser-drawn shapes are figures taken from an encyclopedia. The ‘Excavations Series’ (2019) is a set of laser-drilled slides of archaeological sites in Roman Tunisia, featuring text correspondences of visitors to Tunisia taken from postcards. These series are also part of the relationship between Western and Tunisian culture.

Excavations, 2019

In the artist’s only painting series, ‘Point of View, Point of Hearing (shots 1)’ (2012), small canvases of Tunisian landscapes intended to be sold to tourists are covered by the artist with white paint. She still leaves the original landscape peeking out in places through small dots. We find here this dimension of seeing through, of a hole which opens our field of vision. Exposed all together, they form a constellation of the visible and the invisible.

Point of view, point of listening (Clichés I), 2013

For the exhibition at the Fiminco Foundation, Farah Khelil has chosen to create new pieces from the series ‘Bedside Notes’ and ‘Point de vue’, ‘Point d’écoute’ (Nuit Blanche), in an installation adapted to the exhibition’s purpose, and which continues the artist’s artistic research. The ‘Bedside Notes’ series began in 2017, during a residency in Gafsa, Tunisia. This region in southern Tunisia is a meeting between her personal family history and an atypical natural landscape. On the one hand, she travels the region with a camera to immortalize the horizon and its vegetal details. On the other hand, she visits one of her father’s aunts who tells her the history of her family, with photographs. Her eye is drawn to the small bedside tables, whose upper shelf is glazed and serves as a horizontal frame for family photographs. Farah Khelil decides to take up this private and domestic device of monstration and to make it the support of a photographic hybridization. Indeed, Farah Khelil mixes archives and personal photographs and especially flattens them. She blurs our senses, that of depth and perspective, as different images are unified by a gesture of composition. However, she treats these archives not as a memory, but rather as a reflexive mapping of lived experiences. The table is a whole, both in terms of the artistic practice for which it serves as a support, and in terms of its previous history as a domestic object. In this dynamic, Farah abolishes any form of hierarchy between sources, between mediums, between image and text.

Bedside Notes #1, 2017

For the exhibition at the Fiminco Foundation, Farah Khelil will take up this format of bedside tables, this time developing a work of silk-screening texts on placemats. The exhibition ‘Freedom of Sleep’, conceived as an exploration of insomnia, of the desynchronization of bodies and society, gives Farah Khelil the opportunity to explore a new meaning of the bedside table series. The object itself, if it serves as a support for an artistic realization, remains an everyday object, a witness of our nights and our insomnia. The artist uses the object in its totality, from its material condition to its emotional significance. The silk-screened texts are extracts from internet forums where people share their testimony on insomnia. Farah Khelil revisits the medium of text, as so many personal stories to make a work with a universal scope, which will amuse, resonate, question visitors.

Ultimately the work of Farah Khelil is born of a mental, visual and artistic emancipation. Emancipation rhymes with freedom, and it is true freedom that guides Farah to break codes, divert objects and ideas and free herself from rules.

Cyrus Karibu: Slay Queen (2018).
Photo: SMAC Gallery.

Online | 27 January to 28 February 2021 | Free Access


Exhibition | Artists | Program
Presenting artists an curators working with e-waste as artistic material.

An TASAWAR Project.