About the exhibition

Hélène Jagot

Algiers the White. A city where women and men cross paths in the hustle and bustle of traffic and competing voices, in the tumultuous streets with open shops overflowing with all kinds of foods, in markets where people exchange, negotiate and argue. A city where, as in all cities around the world, urban space is governed by gendered norms, by different ways of experiencing the city depending on one’s sex. Two women allow us to see and understand this city by exploring the issue of Algerian women’s mobility. Sociologist Khadidja Boussaïd and photographer Khadidja Markemal take us through the streets and the squares, the chic, commercial and peripheral neighborhoods, following in the footsteps of the women of Algiers, to meet those who constantly have to legitimize their presence outside the home so as not to violate the Maghreb’s patriarchal order of gendered separation of private and public spheres. Their project was born from a meeting brought about by the Mobile Lives Forum. The project began with Khadidja Boussaïd's doctoral thesis on gender and urban mobility, which provided a sociological framework for the work of photographer Khadidja Markemal - a well-known figure in street photography in Algiers and on social networks - who was already examining the presence of women in urban spaces. Sharing thoughts on the concepts of urban sociology and problematizing strategies by which women lay claim to public spaces contributed to several photography campaigns and laid the groundwork for almost a year of dialogue between the sociological investigation and the reportage.

Then came the photography. Taking clichés on the move in commercial streets teeming with people, peering far into the neighborhoods and down the boulevards, following her subjects during night trips or for posing sessions on the beach, Khadidja Markemal met Algerian women of all generations and all social categories, with the desire to portray the multiple faces of the city’s female presence. From the higher views of the port of Algiers to the nervous hands of a teenage girl pinning her veil, Markemal captures the energy of the city and its inhabitants. If women are center stage, male views are the corollary, in this society governed by codes of virility. The series juxtaposes photographs of women from working-class neighborhoods, veiled, passing head down in front of men whose place in the public space is assured, and those of girls laughing, their hair in the wind, flirting with boys their age or sitting at a café’s terrace, talking with friends. A outsider might conclude that these women evolve in different times and places, but this would be to ignore the social and cultural polyphony of Algiers, where there is a collision between a desire for modernity - partly embodied by the “Feminist Square” of the Popular Movement of Hirak - and a respect for traditions of modesty and honor. Once the tension of dusk has passed, the dive into the nightlife of Ramadan - this special moment of religious, social and cultural life - is a photographic road-movie. We discover a society that enjoys the liberty offered by this sacred time, where women mingle with men in a nocturnal ballet and where it becomes acceptable for women to walk alone, in the middle of the night, in the streets. This freedom can only be found in the summer, when cities empty in favor of the beaches. Teenagers and young adults then look for places to be out of sight, often spread out among strangers enjoying the Algerian sun, to enjoy a moment of relative freedom: bodies are revealed and warmed in the sun, and the Mediterranean waters come to lick their bare ankles. It’s a time to celebrate the holidays and be carefree.

Of the 200+ photographs taken by Markemal, the duo selected about fifty, supplemented by four videos, questioning the general framework of women's mobility, underpinned by the permanent injunction to legitimize their presence in the public space. They highlight issues specific to women's mobility: public transport and freedom of movement through the use of cars, street harassment and invisibility through the use of the veil, ways of experiencing the cultural and commercial third places where social and romantic relationships are formed, strategies of resistance and transgression to enjoy the city beyond the deadline of dusk - which is when women are supposed to be back home - and urban wandering after breaking the fast and the Tarawih prayer every night during the month of Ramadan. Altogether, they showcase with great clarity the complexity of women's mobility in the public space of Algiers, with their strategies to avoid and bypass the imposed rules, in order to reveal the creativity deployed by these women to live their lives and experience their cities as they see fit, and to make their desires for emancipation coincide with the potentials offered by their mobility. Khadidja Boussaïd and Khadidja Markemal’s work, which is exemplary in its method and goals, resonates far beyond Algiers and allows us also to question the mobility of women in European cities.

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