Adel Abdessemed

‘Shams’, 2013-18
in situ installation
40 tonnes of clay, steel, wood, jute, plastic, mixed media
dimension vary

The walls of a narrow room in the Mathaf Museum in Qatar hosted a tall clay relief depicting workers carrying heavy loads or digging the ground with picks and shovels. Armed soldiers watch over them, lending this high relief the impression of forced labor or slavery. The figures dig deeper into the earth, which is both their support and the object of their labor. A reference to the thousands of men who worked in the Serra Plada in Brazil, documented by the photographer Salgado in the 1980s, is clearly visible here. The size of the figures diminishes toward the top, suggesting not only perspective but also the idea of ascending toward the light, which resonates with the title, Shams, Arabic for “sun.” Memories of trench warfare merge with images of foreign workers exploited in Qatar and throughout the region, as revealed in the press just months after this work was begun. The title might thus also be interpreted as “shedding light” on a hidden reality.

Giovanni Careri