Performing Place-based Knowledge: The Case of Aouchem

Episode 166

Performing Place-based Knowledge: The Case of Aouchem

This podcast offers a contextual analysis of the exhibition histories and critical reception of the Algerian artist collective Aouchem. It will focus on the historical and political context that shaped Aouchem's work and how their democratizing ethos and aesthetic sensibility, rooted in Indigenous visual forms, influenced the decolonizing aesthetics of 1960s Algeria. The talk draws on contemporary Indigenous methodologies to offer a critical and theoretically informed analysis of Aouchem’s work, situating it within broader debates around Indigenous knowledge, place-making, and politics of space. The central theme of this presentation is to rethink land not as an object, but as a conduit of knowledge. Using primary sources such as published interviews with the artists and their own writings, as well as exhibition catalogues, the presentation theorizes Aouchem’s work as a performance of place-based knowledge.

Sheyda Aisha Khaymaz is an artist, curator, poet, and PhD candidate in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin, specializing in the modern and contemporary art of the Maghrib. Their doctoral dissertation, titled “Indigenous Presentness: Translocal Politics of Amazigh Art and Resistance,” focuses on the manifold expressions of indigeneity in art and explores the nexus between Amazigh artistic production and sovereignty movements across Tamazgha—the ancestral name for the lands of Amazigh peoples. The project theorizes the new artistic forms that emerged in the region after the 1960s, especially script-based abstract painting, which draw upon ancient sign-making practices, such as tattooing and rock-engraving, as decolonial phenomena. Khaymaz’s research aims to connect modern-day instances of Tamazight language activism and Indigenous revival movements with a larger discourse on indigeneity and Africanity. Khaymaz is the 2023 recipient of the Rhonda A. Saad Prize for Best Paper in Modern and Contemporary Arab Art, awarded by the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey (AMCA), and the 2022 Mark Tessler Graduate Student Prize Award, awarded by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS). Their writing appears in the Journal of Black Studies, the E3W Review of Books, and various exhibition catalogues.

This episode is part of the “Modern Art in the Maghrib” lecture series and was recorded on the 27th of April, 2023 by the Centre d'Études Maghrébines à Tunis (CEMAT

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We thank our friend Mohamed Boukhoudmi for his interpretation of the extract of "Nouba Dziriya" by Dr. Noureddine Saoudi for the introduction and conclusion of this podcast.

Posted by Hayet Lansari, Librarian, Outreach Coordinator, Content Curator (CEMA).

Suggested Bibliography

Al-Koni, Ibrāhīm. 2014. A Sleepless Eye: Aphorisms from the Sahara. Translated by Roger Allen. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press.


Becker, Cynthia. “Exile, Memory, and Healing in Algeria: Denis Martinez and La Fenêtre du Vent.” African Arts (Summer 2009): 24 - 31. 


Belhachemi, Nourredine. “La Peinture Aouchem: Un Patrimoine Visuel En Question(s).” Revue des Sciences Sociales 5, no. 5 (2018): 168.


Bouayed, Anissa. “Histoire de la peinture en Algérie : continuum et ruptures,” Confluences Méditerranée 81, no. 2, (2012): 163-179. 


Feldman, Hannah. 2020. “Abstract Anxieties and Algerian Abstraction.” In Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s, edited by Suheyla Takesh, Lynn Gumpert. Munich, Germany: Hirmer Verlag.


Goeman, Mishuana. 2015. “Land as Life: Unsettling the Logics of Containment.” In Native Studies Keywords, edited by Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Andrea Smith, Michelle H. Raheja, 71-89. Tuscon, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.


Greenspan, Susan. “Manifesto of the Aouchem Group (1967).” Critical Interventions 3, no. 1 (2009): 188-89.


Laggoune-Aklouche, Nadira. “Résistance, Appropriation Et Réappropriation Dans L’art Algérien.” Modern & Contemporary France 19, no. 2 (2011): 179-93.


Liassine, Françoise. 2002. Choukri Mesli. Alger: Enag Editions.


Mesli, Choukri. 2018. “Elements for a New Art (1964).” In Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents, edited by Anneka Lenssen, Sarah A. Rogers, Nada M. Shabout235. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


Mustapha, Adane. “Manifeste Aouchem 2.” (2012).


Poullion, François, and Amy Jacobs-Colas. “150 Years of Algerian Painting: Relevance for Understanding the Postcolonial Situation.” French Politics, Culture & Society 20, no. 2, Special Issue: Regards croisés: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Colonial Situation (2002): 141-58.


Silem, Ali. “Le Groupe Aouchem,” Le Lien 66 (2015).



Slide 1: Choukri Mesli, Poème pour elle [Poem for Her], c. 1982, monotype, 65 x 50 cm. From the exhibition catalogue Mesli: Gouaches et Monotypes. Algiers: Galerie M’hamed Issiakhem, 1986. Published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title, organized by and presented at Galerie M’hamed Issiakhem, November 20-December 15, 1986. Private collection.

Slide 2:  Choukri Mesli, Femme symbole [Woman Symbol], 1990, oil on canvas, 180 x 94 cm.  Source: Liassine, Françoise. Choukri Mesli. Alger: Enag Editions, 2002.

Slide 3: Choukri Mesli, Femme, composition [Woman, Composition], 1986, oil on plywood, 195 x 97 cm. Source: Liassine, Françoise. Choukri Mesli. Alger: Enag Editions, 2002.