Adel Abdessemed’s ivory sculpture Mon enfant is based on a famous archival photograph taken in 1943 of a petrified young Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto. In a conversation with Shifting Vision, the artist elaborated on his process, and how he sees his work in relation to history, time, humanity, and immortality.
Abdessemed said Mon enfant involves actuality because it blends compassion, love, and parental instincts demonstrated through the figure itself as well as the title. He noted that while he is concerned with history, invariably he is also concerned with the present and his own reality, both physical and mental.
Abdessemed explained that many of his works involve research. While a work such as Mon enfant has a rapport with history given it’s Nazi-era context, there is a moment of transition from past to present. He said that while the photo itself is an historical document, the moment he takes an image and incorporates it into his work he gives it a new actuality. For Abdessemed, at this point it’s no longer in the past, it becomes current.
The artist spoke to Shifting Vision about his relationship with the public, which he sees playing out in many of his works. He said that, ‘A work of art, when you look at it, has to tell you to change your life. At the same time, what we are looking at also looks back at us, so there is a profound and intimate dialogue there between viewer and work, and you can’t measure the degrees to which this plays out.’
‘It’s like when you trace a line and go from point to point to point and you don’t know how much you can do. A drawing can be something that you can never surmount, there are always things you can discover or that the image can offer you. In this way, there is an immortal quality to works and as such, artists have a rapport with immortality. There can always be new interpretations, reactivations.’ The artist added that, ‘If you could imagine an end of the world, what would be left? I think it’s artworks, I’m persuaded.’
Left: Adel Abdessemed, Mon enfant, 2014.
Right: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Archival photo from SS Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler, May 1943.