Originally Published: May 2, 2020
In our first artist spotlight feature of 2020, we sat down with Adel Bentounsi, a vibrant and dynamic multidisciplinary visual artist. Adel is originally from Algeria and currently resides in Paris, France.
Adel was one of the very first members of the Marsoum Art Collective when it was founded in 2018. Since then, Adel Bentounsi has participated in several international exhibitions in cities like New York and Vancouver. His “In Between” series was featured in our first-ever live exhibition in 2019 at Vancouver’s Monica Reyes Gallery.
In this interview, we immersed ourselves in Adel’s world by asking him just about everything. We covered Adel’s origins and early career, his approach and process, along with some fascinating anecdotes about his personal life.
Biography & Career
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Adel Bentounsi and I was born in Annaba, Algeria. I am a contemporary visual artist. I’ve worked with several media such as photography, video, installations, performance art, graphic art, drawing and painting.
What is your background?
I was born in 1982 in Algeria. He attended the School of Fine Arts in Annaba, where he obtained his Artistic Diploma in 2007. He also attended the Dunkerque Institute of Higher Education in 2013.
I have exhibited my work in several countries, including the USA, France, Lebanon, Jordan, Senegal, Morocco and obviously my native Algeria.
What jobs have you done besides being an artist?
In past lifetimes I have been a house painter and a cow breeder.
Who are your biggest influences?
Philosophers, religions and the core existential questions are what have nourished my mind and influenced my work.
How have you developed your career?
It’s my life experience that has developed my career.
What’s your strongest childhood memory?
It’s one of an earthquake. I remember that we had to be evacuated from our house.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
People appreciate my recount of when I had a moment of artistic rebirth by burning all my paintings to date.
What has been a seminal experience in your career so far?
That would be my most recent group exhibition with 24 other Algerian artists at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. As part of that show, titled “Waiting for Omar Gatlato: Contemporary Art from Algeria and its Diaspora”, I exhibited an artwork called “C.V.”. It consisted of a pressure cooker (cocotte) with bilingual keyboard decals on the surface.
How has your practice change over time?
My work has become more mature with time. But I still keep searching for the truth with a childlike curiosity.
Because art has always been a powerful tool for me. It has helped me process notions and thoughts throughout my life. Most importantly, it has helped me resist and speak up against the negative notions and presumptions I have encountered.
What does your work aim to say?
My art is less about saying. It’s more about asking questions.
How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
My work tries to reinterpret these issues as they come my way. Growing up in North Africa, there was no shortage of social and political context, but I try to not limit myself to these two areas, as the larger existential questions that humanity faces are far more interesting to me.
Why do you do what you do?
I didn’t choose this path. The sum of my experiences, trials and reflections have led me to taking on this role of accepting that we don’t know much as humans. Above all else, I embrace the questions surrounding our existence and purpose on this earth.
What role does the artist have in society?
I think that the artist always has the role of guide. An artist breaks barriers and boundaries in peoples’ eyes and mind. In doing so, an artists hopefully brings people a little closer to one another.
What art do you most identify with?
I am obviously biased towards the visual art form. But I believe that every expression or story has a medium that fits it best.
What work do you most enjoying doing?
It depends on what inspires me and what medium I use to reinterpret the situation or experience.
What themes do you pursue?
Regardless of the exact medium I use, there are a few themes that jostle me. These would be the human, environmental, social, political and religious themes.
What’s your favourite art work of the ones you’ve created?
It’s difficult to pick one. All of them tell a different story that has its own unique charm.
What’s the most embarrassing moment in your artistic career?
That would be when I was asked to decorate a public place through an installation. Prior to that, I was used to having my work exhibited on a wall or a gallery window. But to be asked to leave a more permanent mark on a public space was more nerve-wrecking, embarrassing, and energizing than just about anything I’d experienced.
What is an artistic outlook on life?
I think that an artistic vision consists of always looking for a reason to live, and to find inspiration in the world around you.
How do you work?
I usually find my energy and inspiration when an interaction or a situation impacts me. I start by reflecting and thinking about the subject matter. I then observe the impact that it has had on me, and that’s when I being documenting it. I then try out different mediums to see which one would be the most appropriate. And I keep trying until I find the right one.
What research to you do?
I look for sobering situations and eye-opening images that I find to be truthful, or as close as possible to the truth.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Which current art world trends are you following?
I follow pretty much everything. I like staying on top of all sorts of trends but am selective when it comes to those that I incorporate into my art.
How do you price your work?
The prices of my artworks are set according to my experience and my past sales.
Anecdotes & Aspirations
What’s your scariest experience?
It was during a play in which I acted. Having to perform in front of hundreds of people definitely cause some stage fright.
What food, drink, song inspires you?
The lemon tree, water and Chaabi songs (North African Folklore) inspire me the most.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I don’t think that the artistic life is lonely. I think life is what we make of it. A person that is a loner and creates art makes for a lonely artist. As for me, I am always aware of the environment I create around me, including the people and love I surround myself by.
What do you dislike about the art world?
I sometimes dislike the mannerism and the rift between art in its purest form, and art as a commodity or industry.
What do you dislike about your work?
I don't like it when I’m not able to bring a work to life as I had envisioned because I don't have the right raw materials. In Algeria, there unfortunately is a lack of material and art supplies.
What do you like about your work?
I like the debate that is created between my work and me.
What makes you angry?
The concept of prestige does not appeal to me at all. To me, it belongs to a group of things and concepts that are unnatural, fabricated or manipulated. It’s that inauthenticity that makes me angry at times.
What superpower would you have and why?
I would like to be invisible so that there are no boundaries to what I can experience.
Name something you love, and why.
I love Neptune and what it represents. Neptune is considered a planet, but in practice it isn’t a planet because there is no solid surface for us to land on. The purity and unattainability of Neptune really fascinate me.
Name something you don’t love, and why.
I don’t like colonizers. In fact, the whole concept of colonizing a part of the world is one that doesn’t appeal to me.
What is your dream project?
I would love to create an artistic foundation in Algeria to help young and emerging artists.
Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
Marcel Duchamp, Banksy and Pierre Soulage.
What is your favourite or most inspirational place in your city/town?
It’s a place in my hometown Annaba, Algeria. It’s a place of warmth and love. It’s my aunt’s house.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Don’t waste your time on the mundane. Use your art to talk about important things.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
Sharing as much as I can of my experience and my artistic vision with the world.
What is the one thing you couldn’t give up?
I couldn’t live a day without art in my life.
Interested in learning more about Adel Bentounsi?
Well you’re in luck. You can start by checking out Adel’s bio here. You’re also welcome to browse his artworks and learning the stories behind them by visiting our shop. If you’re still longing for more directly from Adel, you can also follow him on Instagram.
Written by: Abdulah S Al-Ghoul
Abdulah Al-Ghoul is a digital project manager and strategist with a background in several industries including hospitality, fine arts and marketing.
Abdulah founded the Marsoum Art Collective in 2018.