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Kadder Attia's work at Marcel Duchamp Prize's international exhibition. Photo:

Kadder Attia is awarded this year’s Prix Marcel Duchamp 0

Daiga Rudzāte, Una Meistere

When every October the well-respected FIAC art fair comes around (and when Paris becomes the axis round which the world’s art-lovers and -professionals rotate), the Centre Pompidou also exhibits the works of the candidates nominated for, and the winner of, that year’s Prix Marcel Duchamps – France’s most prestigious art prize.

The four candidates on this year’s shortlist were named in February: Kadder Attia (1970, France), Yto  Barrada (1971, Morocco),  Ulla von Brandenburg (1974, Germany), and Barthelemy Toguo (1967, Cameroon). Gilles Fuchs, president of ADIAF (which oversees the Prix Marcel Duchamp) and an exuberant art collector and proponent of French art himself, describes each candidate while also finding a unifying element: “The various works by the artists in the 2016 Marcel Duchamp Prize might well seem to show art as a system of fundamental therapy. 

Barthélémy Toguo. Photo:

“Kadder Attia analyses the phenomenon of repair in humans as well as in objects or on a political scale. How can we overcome the trauma caused by broken or missing limbs?   

“Barthelemy Toguo’s overriding question is how to fight the Ebola or AIDS viruses in a threatened continent like Africa. Ulla von Brandenburg proposes a “magical ritual” to heal a wounded society. 

And finally, by her research into the past and study of the ethnographer Thérèse Rivière’s tragic life, Yto Barrada evokes the difficulties and hopes of the African continent.  

“But another invisible link connects these four artists: their link to emigration showing both the French culture’s power of attraction, as well as the historical welcome given to them by France.”

Kadder Attia. Photo:


On the evening of 17 October, in the hall of the Pompidou Center, the winner was announced. The winner of the Prix Marcel Duchamps 2016 is Kadder Attia. Born in France in 1970, he has grown up knowing both Algiers and the Paris suburbs, and at the center of his attention is the relationship between Western culture and the Arab world. In telling his narratives he uses a variety of forms of expression – painting, video art, objects. The synergy that entwines them creates a multimedia phenomenon. As soon as the official award ceremony in the hall came to a close, had the chance to speak to Attia, who in speaking of his art admits that: “In this work it was very important to me to express through the language of art what is happening to all of us in this time that we live in. The Pompidou Center, like the Tate Modern in London or MoMA in New York – all of these large institutions are visited by an immense number of people. As a child, I also came here often. And school children still come here to understand and think about what art is. My work consciously began with bread that my mother baked, because I know that the African children who will see this exhibition will also link it to their mothers and the bread that they bake. It was very important to me to encourage people to think about things that are decisively important today. Cardinal changes are taking place in French society right now. In art as well – content is becoming much more important than form. It’s taken a long time to come about, but right now, especially in Paris, changes are taking place very quickly. We’re living in an anxious time; we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We don’t know what we will be like in 2017. You could go out on your apartment’s balcony for a glass of wine and die. That’s the world in which we live. It is no longer happening somewhere far away, in the Middle East; it’s happening here.

Read in the Archive: Art is a way of knowing one’s self / An interview with French art collector Gilles Fuchs in Paris

“Recently, my Lebanese friend (he’s one of the surgeons you see in my film) and I went out for some wine in a neighborhood not far from Le Petit Cambodge. The bar was packed, people were dancing, we were drinking wine, but six months ago, there was death here. My friend told me that he was here that night, and added: You know, I think that right now, Paris society is in a ‘Lebanese process’; it’s becoming ‘Lebanese-like’. And that’s very interesting because this society has been living in a state of civil war for years on end, and you have no choice – you simply have to live. The same goes for Tel Aviv. You have to live in this world. We have to think and talk about it, because we can’t let it be hidden. My work is about these changes.”

When asked if today art has the ability to change anything, Attia answered: “Of course, but on a different scale. I believe that art history is slower than the economy, markets, and the mass media; but it is much deeper. It requires more time, but it has greater vision.”

La Colonie, which was founded together with Zico Sellemum, and is hoped to become something of an artistic laboratory; a place where ideas are shared, and also accumulated in this post-Brexit era – organizing workshops, seminars, holding public readings, exhibiting art…

Exposition by Ulla von Brandenburg. Photo:


Founded in 2000 by the ADIAF (Association for the International Diffusion of French Art), the Prix Marcel Duchamps is the most prestigious art award in France. Every year, the judging panel, which consists of 11 ADIAF members, selects four artists living in France as nominees for the award; an exhibition of the nominees’ works is held at the Centre Pompidou during the time that FIAC takes place, and the winner receives a prize of 35 000 euros. Over the last sixteen years, several of the winners of the Prix Marcel Duchamp have been very notable figures in the contemporary art scene, such as Thomas Hirchorn and Dominique Gonzalez-Foester. On the award’s influence on both the art processes within France, and the recognition of French Art throughout the world, Fuchs says: “As from the 1970s, French contemporary art, until then preeminent worldwide, gradually disappeared from the international scene. 

Exposition by Ulla von Brandenburg. Photo:

“This has been no longer the case for more than 20 years now, and young French artists collect some of the most important international prizes and awards while benefiting from high profile international exhibitions: C. Gaillard, K. Attia, Camille Henrot, Dominique Gonzales Foster, Tatiana Trouvé, Laurent Grasso…. or again Pierre Huygue, without forgetting their illustrious elders Buren, Boltanski, Martial Raysse, and Annette Messager, who have been awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperial.

Finally, these young artists have galleries throughout the world (on average, four galleries for the 2016 Marcel Duchamp Prize artists) which was not the case 20 years ago.  

“Undoubtedly, the Marcel Duchamp Prize has helped in making the French scene better known, as well as in reviving its international presence; in this regard, we mustn’t forget the fifteen or so exhibitions of the artists from the Marcel Duchamp Prize organized by the ADIAF.” 

Exposition by Ulla von Brandenburg. Photo:

Exposition by Ulla von Brandenburg. Photo:

Works by Barthélémy Toguo. Photo:

Works by Barthélémy Toguo. Photo:

Works by Barthélémy Toguo. Photo:

Works by Barthélémy Toguo. Photo: