Why does art matter? For some, what matters is not the art at all, but rather the money and the power behind it. For Berirouche Feddal, however, art can be so much more than that. Art, he discovered, has the unique ability to give a message, to build a community, and to help others who are struggling with identity. This is why art matters, and this is why he continues to create.
In his 2020 exhibition Mon coeur s’attache à ces âmes fragiles, Feddal explores themes of family, migration, and memory in a manner that oscillates between the personal and universal, unapologetically exploring his own identity while simultaneously lifting up other artists. For Feddal, his work is important because it can heal, provoke, and give voice to the voiceless. As a result, his practice remains firmly rooted in community and mutual support - a subversive quality in a milieu that is too often plagued by commercialistic greed and parasitic power structures.
Originally from the Kabyle region of Algeria, Feddal draws much of his inspiration from memories of his home that, quite literally, colour the art he creates. The washes of reds, greens, yellows, and blues that are found in his grandmother’s rugs are reflected in his multimedia pieces, imbuing them with the character of his Kabyle community. Memories - like a recollection of his mother’s love of chewing gum, or a reminiscence of the satellite dishes that adorned the visual landscape of his childhood - find new life through his creations. “I’m literally giving my memories to art,” says Feddal, as he explains how connecting with these images from his past fuels and guides his practice. Whether he starts with an object - a rug, a pair of shoes, a satellite dish - or with a fragment of memory, the final product is always profoundly connected with the artist himself. “It's my personality, my history, my portraits, my ancestors. I need to give them an opportunity to speak so that they are not lost.”
An avid reader of poetry, Feddal sees the motivation for his artistic practice reflected in the Amazigh proverb Ttruhun wudmawen, ttγiman-d yesmawen, which translates to People disappear, names remain eternal. Even his name has a story, he explains, a story not just of him, but of his family, language, and culture. This is why he stresses the importance of keeping his name connected to his practice, so that even if one day his community disappears, it - with its language, clothes, and colours - will live on in his art.
When he left Kabylia and set foot Canadian art world for the first time, he found himself in unfamiliar terrain - an environment that cared more about the success of the individual than that of the whole. Feddal, who had been brought up in a culture that valued mutual support and collective work, was taken aback by a milieu that, at times, exploited its artists for the benefit and success of those higher up. “When we build a house, we build together,” he explains, referring to the community-forward values with which he was instilled as a child. “In my family, we live in the same community, and we all built it together.” Following in that spirit, he believes that the art community in Montreal should take up this mentality and work together to build a better, safer space in which art and artists can flourish.
Certain modern practices, however, still perpetuate systems of power that encourage abusive and toxic treatment of up-and-coming artists. Feddal wants to change that. Instead of conforming to the perceived goals of the modern artist, he says, “we should collaborate to push each other into the same work, so at the end we’re both succeeding.” This synergistic ethos is a thread that can be traced through many of his projects, such as his piece made in collaboration with Montréal-based fashion designer Tristan Réhel entitled Héphaïstos cherche son feu, which consists of a faux-designer bag made with a pseudo-Persian rug from Ikea. While the work itself speaks to issues of cultural appropriation and corporate exploitation, in teaming up with a local fashion designer whose career has come into contact with the dubious practices of big-name brands, Feddal provides an example of how artists can support each other and raise awareness for the problems that they all face.
Visitors to his exhibition Mon coeur s’attache à ces âmes fragiles will have noticed a small painting of a woman carrying a child on a beach, which Feddal himself did not create. Beside it is a 2019 video reportage of the artist responsible for the work: Abdullah Rahmani. In the video, he speaks about his piece from the Moria camp in Greece where he and thousands of other refugees had been living. Though Rahmani lives in a different situation in an entirely different part of the globe, Feddal sees in his and Rahmani’s respective migrations a common dream that unites them. At the same time, he remains acutely aware of the relative privilege that he possesses—the privilege that has allowed him to move to Canada and establish himself as an artist with the ability to amplify messages through his practice. It is with this platform that he now intends to give voice to artists like Abdullah Rahmani, encouraging their artistic passions, connecting them to a community of artists, and giving their work an audience, thus continuing to challenge traditional molds of artistic production.
Though much of his work engages with his past, Feddal is nevertheless looking forward. When asked about the art scene in Montreal, Feddal admits that the situation is imperfect, with certain people and institutions casting a shadow over the city’s creative community. But, he affirms, there is hope, because despite the bad seeds there are still many who, rather than remain complacent with what we are told art is, choose to illuminate the possibilities of all that art can be.