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In Between Languages Meriem Bennani

New York Close Up

March 5, 2020

One of five new films from Art21’s winter 2020 programming

What if one language just isn’t enough? At work installing her solo exhibition at CLEARING gallery in Brooklyn, artist Meriem Bennani chronicles a recent set of ambitious video installation works, unpacking her uniquely humorous and political mix of digital animation, documentary footage, and interactive sculpture. Originally from Morocco, New York City-based Bennani explains how “being here for ten years and being English [as a] second language, and feeling like I’m losing a little bit of my first language…I’ve found that developing this practice that pulls from so many different languages of TV, cinema, sculpture and installation, mixing it all together has allowed me to hit the right note, in my own way.”

For her 2019 Whitney Biennial work, MISSION TEENS (2019), Bennani filmed a group of French-speaking teenagers at her former high school in Rabat, Morocco as well as the grand homes of Rabat’s middle and upper class. Bennani in turn mischievously complicates the postcolonial politics of her work by placing the films in a series of “viewing stations,” absurdist and exocticized sculptures like a palm tree oasis on the Whitney’s outdoor terrace. The viewer is not only forced to sit and peer inside the sculptures but must also coexist and cooperate with other viewers in order to watch the films.

Back at CLEARING gallery, Bennani’s eight-channel video installation, Party on the CAPS (2018–2019), imagines a fictional future where immigrants are isolated to an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and begin new, hybridized societies. Like her own playfully mixed work, “the whole island of the CAPS is a physical analogy for the idea of diaspora, how people think of diasporas as either having to fully assimilate or return to the land they come from,” says Bennani. “But that actually there’s a third alternative, which is in that in-between.”

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