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A monument that remembers the future

‘Remembering the Future’ is the title of Kader Attia’s current politically-themed exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zurich. It strives to reflect on social grievances and injustices deeply rooted in history. 

Kader Attia was born in 1970 to Algerian parents in a suburb north of Paris. His experience of a life between cultures is the point of departure for his artistic practice. His subjects often circle around the West and Europe’s colonial past and the aftermath of their involvement in Africa, Asia and the Americas. 

The artist became widely known after an installation at the international exhibition ‘Documenta 13’ in 2012 where he showed pictures of soldiers who had lost their faces in World War I.  

The oversized, two-faced Janus head, which is now sitting on a column outside the Kunsthaus art museum in Zurich, goes back to this subject matter.  

It is an enlarged copy of a bust cut from wood, which is part of the exhibition. The disfigured, ‘broken’ faces were soldiers who survived the First World War but were scarred for life by their terrible wounds. Kader Attia travelled to Africa with photos of the injured that he had found in German and French historical archives and, working with traditional craftspeople, sculpted busts from the photos in the former colonies.  

The timing of the installation of this sculpture on a pedestal has attracted attention, coming as elsewhere, many historical monuments are discussed, have become controversial or have been removed altogether.