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The genius of Ahmed Stambouli

It was a day, a summer, a year during which one of our greatest painters departed: After Mahdjoub Ben Bella, Abdellah Benanteur, it was Ahmed Stambouli’s turn to give us a bad surprise on July 17, 2020. Here is his profile.

Œuvre d'Ahmed Stambouli. D.R.

Some artists knew how to talk about modernity beyond belongings, while leaning on popular cultures, they made a transposed translation of the profound reality. Ahmed Stambouli belongs to this category. 

The artist was born in 1957 in Khemid Miliana. He had his art studies at the National Superior School of fine arts in Paris. 

He worked as a drawing teacher, then he taught painting at the National school of fine arts in Mostaganem from 1987 to 1998.

The schools of Mostaganem and Oran gave us great works of art. They are a nursery of talents, among which there is Yasser Ameur and Stambouli yesterday, but also Benanteur, Ben Bella and Hachemi Ameur who was the school’s director and who coordinates today the whole region of Oran. Stambouli, Benanteur and Ben Bella joined the school of Paris. 

Stambouli took part in numerous exhibitions in Algeria, France, Dubai, Tunisia, Morocco, London, Italy…

Cave animals, vivid colors, signs, children’s crying,sometimes blinded, faces. We’re far from the candor some claim about him. 

From Basquiat to Garouste, the artist’s universe is fantastic, daily and urban at one: children’s gardens are here, as shown by the hopscotches with signs, but the whole subscribes to an often hostile, even tragic, elsewhere where features are thicker and constitute a warning. 

Devastated human forms, sometimes seamed with black, scary bestiaries where the crescent and the star constitute the horn of a minotaur. A Picasso reference? It also evokes the new generation with Adlane Samet. His latest works are softer with his watercolors and transparencies but the characters are baroque and hard, like a Don Quixote parade. 

Stambouli’s art is beyond anecdotal. It is original, strong and it is a shame that he is not mentioned more in the history of Algerian, Maghrebi and Mediterranean and universal art. Why didn’t he dazzle the contemporary art galleries in Europe, the U.S. and Asia? 

Algeria would have gained a lot from making its artists known. They are its “soft power”. Their works are far from the peccadilloes served to Westerners in countries stricken by mass tourism. 

It is worth remembering that, right after the end of the Algerian war of independence, an “Art and Culture” committee was formed around Jean Jacques Lebel, Pierre Gaudibert and Moroccan painter Cherkaoui in order to organize an exhibition as a tribute to Algerian independence at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Paris.

Algerian works as well as French and Moroccan ones were gathered and then became a donation to the Algerian people, with the hope that they will be the catalyst of a modern art collection, just like the project of a museum for Palestine today in Paris.

Where is this ambition? Where are the means for art schools that are capable of raising such a magnificent stake? 

Decades later, we remember Ahmed Stambouli’s speech at the “Thoughts and Art” forum, an initiative of the Culture center of Tamanrasset, where he spoke about the situation of plastic arts in Algeria, the absence of an art market and the problems that artists face to promote their work and live from their trade. 

In a crisis context, art can be a tool of emancipation and social critique which helps to understand, or even anticipate social changes. It can also be the soft power of countries abroad, and Saudi Arabia understood the stakes very well, just like Morocco in the 1970s.

Painting, just like photography, allows us to see ourselves better, to keep under our lids that spark, that beating of a world that is toddling along. 

A new visual construction, a modern aesthetic are reinvented far from institutions, without State support. That is sad and inappropriate. 

Museums are full of works in a bad shape, covered in dust. Some great artists, including Bayan, are exposed in a library, facing windows and light that deteriorates paintings. Quartered in the library of the museum, Baya is never mentioned during the curriculum of the Fine Arts School in Algiers. 

Acculturation is a damage and a danger for generations to come, colonization taught us that at our expense. 

Luckily, writers, photographers and the new generation of plastic artists are here, full of creativity, but alone with no support. Luckily, some photographers are creating collectives to help each other. 

However, we relay their beauty with the little means we have, but our great admiration, love and gratefulness are like a morning sneezing its hope towards the sun.