Critics’ Picks

Katia Kameli, The Storyteller, 2012, video, color, sound, 12 minutes.

Katia Kameli, The Storyteller, 2012, video, color, sound, 12 minutes.


Katia Kameli

The Mosaic Rooms
226 Cromwell Road A.M. Qattan Foundation Tower House
September 16–December 3, 2016

“What language do you speak stranger? . . . Tell me where are you from? It does not matter, here everyone is an outsider. Sit down please, and join my circle of listeners.” We read these words upon entering the space and are invited to take a seat within a re-creation of an al-halqa, the traditional Arab storyteller’s circle. A wooden structure with soft cushions forms the installation accompanying Katia Kameli’s 2012 film The Storyteller, originally commissioned for the Marrakech Biennale of that year. In her first UK solo exhibition, Kameli has crafted a journey through recent works that investigate the power of stories, national identity, their intersections with the archive, and questions of historical authenticity. Part of her ongoing engagement with the reshaping of narratives and the voices who tell them, the source in The Storyteller is atypical—instead of a traditional oral legend, Kameli has chosen the 1964 Bollywood movie Dosti (Friendship), a movie that focuses on the relationship between two young men: one who is blind, the other, disabled.

Nearby, Kameli’s Stream of Stories, 2015–16, uses collage, facsimiles of old texts, animal-mask sculptures, and interviews with translators and other experts to locate the origins of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables (1668–94). This work examines the politics of translation—the social and cultural ramifications of the transformation of language. Downstairs, The Algerian Novel, 2016, documents a street stall in Algiers where a father and son sell postcards and reproductions of old photographs, ranging from a portrait of Franz Fanon to scenic tourist images and more solemn colonial montages. Following the independence of Algeria in 1962, France took important cultural materials from the country into its own repositories. In Kameli’s film, customers, alongside students, writers, Algerians, and others, reflect on the significance of the images and on notions of selfhood. The documentary, like the exhibition as a whole, offers a poignant and timely insight into how the past, present, and future can be constructed within society.