Adel Abdessemed

Cri, 2014
140 × 114 × 62 cm

Taken on June 8, 1972, after the napalm bombing of the village of Trang Bang, a few kilometers from Saigon, a photo of a little girl running down the road—Kim Phuk, then aged nine—came to symbolize the war in Vietnam. The picture earned a Pulitzer Prize for the photographer, Nick Ut. Adel Abdessemed has used it as the basis for an ivory sculpture, produced in four versions of four different heights corresponding to the height of his four daughters at the time they were made.

The photo of the little Vietnamese girl became “iconic,” a famous image that made the rounds for decades, sometimes exploited for specific ends, sometimes decontextualized and transformed into an anti-war symbol. Abdessemed has extracted the figure of the girl from the media circuit and turned it into a sculpture that not only restores volume to the image but also restores smooth, sleek skin to the horribly burned body. Several pieces of ivory were assembled and then polished to obtain a perfectly smooth surface that nevertheless retains an organic quality insofar as the various parts will turn different shades of color over time and display thin scratches. The “cry” embodied by the figure inevitably moves the viewer yet is also inflected by a given exhibition context; for example, it was shown in David Zwirner’s London gallery in 2013 surrounded by the weapon-wielding figures of Soldaten. Here the exhibition venue, in which the historic and temporal origins of the cry were immediately apparent, sparked a confrontation with history and with the places where violence has been perpetrated.

Angela Megoni