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Latifa Echakhch Tears Down the Circus at the Kunsthaus Zurich

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Showing at the Kunsthaus Zurich is something of a homecoming for French-Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch. In 2008, a still rather unknown Echakch had her first major museum appearance at the Kunsthaus as part of their group show “Shifting Identities,” an exhibition which profiled the changing face of Switzerland.  In the years since the artist’s profile has risen on a precipitous slope with solo shows at the Tate Modern, the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, the Bielefelder Kunstverein, inclusion in the 2011 Venice Biennale, and new representation by Tel Aviv powerhouse Dvir. While she looks ahead to what might be her most prominent showing to date, a one woman exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles later this year, “Goodbye Horses” at the Kunsthaus Zurich marks a special point in Echakhch’s career with some of her most poignant works yet to boot.

Out of her circular career path, comes this show focused on the circus rings, and the politics of freakishness. It centers around the slightly miniaturized and drooping “Untitled (Circus Tent).” Robbed of it’s humorous grandeur as if the spectacle has reached its end and the elephants are packed away once again in their trailers, the tent brings about a childlike feeling of disappointment. Other props — feathered masks, ballet slippers, sparkly costumes, and a large blue ball — lay discarded on the floor to further the effect. As a commentary on adulthood, the exhibition deconstructs our spectacle laden society, which continually rides from highs covered in their own proverbial sequins and red and yellow vinyl, to lows of Facebook stalking the self-proclaimed top moments of others.

From these spectacular relations ever more present throughout contemporary society also emerges a more personal and individualistic narrative in the exhibition. Born in 1974 in the remote city of El Khamsa, Morocco, about 250 kilometers east of Marrakesh, Echakhch moved to France when she was only three, thus coming of age in what was an increasingly turbulent time in France for individuals (especially women) from the Maghreb. Thus, one might draw a further line to the nefarious freak shows of Barnum and Bailey’s to her own formative experiences of Othering. Combining this personal narrative with the more symptomatic reading of the works, brings about a rather fraught realization of paradigm shifts in our social relations. In the developed world we have moved away from convenient binaries of the majority and the Other, but instead constant and towards continuous, self imposed Othering across social rank, race, and age. The circus tent of yore has collapsed into a screen held in the palm of our hand.

All images courtesy Kunsthaus Zurich

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