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Deena Abdelwahed

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Artists interview: Judas Companion & Nidhal Chamekh on their collaboration on Deena Abdelwahed's debut album 'Khonnar'

Judas Companion is a German photographer and visual artist based in London; Nidhal Chamekh is a Tunisian artist based in Paris and a long-time friend of Deena Abdelwahed. They both worked with Deena Abdelwahed on her debut album 'Khonnar', to be released on November 16 via InFiné. We asked them a few questions about their collaboration and their vision about Deena's project. 



InFiné: Did you know Deena Abdelwahed’s music before your collaboration? How was your meeting in Paris?

Judas Companion: I didn't know Deena's music before. But when Alex contacted me and sent me links to her music, I thought "this is exactly the kind of music I am interested in". I was listening to Chicago footwork and Industrial, Noise during that time, often while creating my works.


Deena Abdelwahed - 'Khonnar" cover by Judas Companion


Through the making and wearing of masks that look both sweet and scary, we find in your work as a visual artist and photographer themes addressed by Deena in her music, about identity, transformation, and even the very notion of « khonnar » (the dark, disturbing side that we try to hide..) How would you define your approach and the relationships between your work and Deena’s work?

JC: Deena and I use different media to express ourselves. But I felt very connected to her music, exactly because of what you describe. I can share the urge to express things that are both alluring and scary, powerful and dark at the same time. And I think this is what an artwork is about, to express ideas, emotions, concepts, constitutions that are not obvious and part of our normal day life. Both our work is about an identity that is "unseen", a transformed human identity. When we look at how humanity harms and modifies itself and our planet this becomes terrifyingly real and a very current issue. Deena and I are exploring different areas of this issue, which has to do with both our personal history. We meet at the point where we "want to speak out" and express ourselves by defining the disturbance we see in this world.


Masks and photography by Judas Companion - Courtesy of the artist


You are a German artist based in London, Deena is a Tunisian musician based in Toulouse. How do you explain why you both seem to want to express the same things or feelings?

JC: I think our feelings are global. Both our work is current, we create now! And every change in society, the world, our neighborhood and scene influences what we think about and subsequently what we create. We both present our work in other countries. Through social media, everything is connected directly and the location you actually live at is not so important anymore. As long as you have similar interested, you will connect sooner or later.

What did you feel listening to her album?

JC: I felt the darkness you were talking about, but to me it actually felt relieving. I do not want to listen to "easy going" music because that is not what I feel is relevant. I like the way Deena composed, decomposed, deconstructed, reconstructed the tracks. Its intelligent, sensitive music.


Courtesy of Judas Companion




Photo: Max Bird


InFiné: You are Deena Abdelwahed’s long-time friend, can you tell us how you met, personally and artistically? As yet, have you already had the opportunity to work with each other?

Nidhal Chamekh: Indeed, we have known each other for a long time. We do not have the same circle of friends but we do have some friends in common. We both studied at the Fine Arts School of Tunisia, but in different disciplines and years. Deena was still in school when I finished my studies and left for France the same year. We were able to see each other later, occasionally, and then during the Masnaâ project where in their fourth edition, the artistic directors Ismaêl and David Ruffel decided to create an encounter between Moroccan and Tunisian artists. That is to say that the art world in Tunisia is small and all the actors of this world know each other… Which can be strength and a weakness. Coming from two radically different disciplines, we have never worked together before. Deena comes from music when I come from sculpture, two very different axis, have very different trajectories and ends. Of course throughout history there have been encounters that have blurred such lines, I think of John Cage, for example; but even in this case the interest was vested in the visual arts and researches relatives to sounds, and the less about the wider world of sound and art together.

Poster inside 'Khonnar' vinyl (limited edition)


How would you describe your approach?

NC: It’s a difficult question because I don’t have taken a step-back far enough to define what I do. But what I can say is that it’s about a process of knowledge and understanding. I mean, the images that make up the majority of my work are my tools to understand the world, history, memory and what surrounds me. In this sense, my work is closer to the research notebook that precedes the book, than the book itself; It welcomes the proliferation of ideas, the most heterogeneous images, as well as all of the hesitations specific to each sketch.

'Khonnar' addresses strong themes such as violence, frustration, exile, love, identity, inner conflict…. What are the links between your work and Deena’s?

NC: When Deena sent me the tracks, I wasn’t expected such music. I was pleasantly surprised because beyond the themes addressed, the musical work directly spoke to me.

The idea of editing, in the overall sense of the term particularly interests me, as this is the very process of my work - made from assemblages and collages of diverse elements and whose tensions and gaps between each element – creating new links/connections and an singular atmosphere to what is intrinsically hybrid. That is exactly what struck me in Deena’s creations. What is silent in my drawings find suddenly a voice in her music.

The themes that are addressed, which are as important as the music itself, comes to find its place, because it exists. Take exile, for example, which creates duality – it rips, edits space and time, and uproots.


Exile II, Exile III, Exile V - Courtesy of Selma Feriani Gallery & Nidhal Chamekh


What would be your definition of the expression “khonnar”, which does not have any equivalent in French/English?

NC: The root word in Arabic refers to the hyena’s skin, as well as its mischievous and scheming behaviour. The word slightly modified in the Tunisian dialect didn’t change the meaning. It is extremely pejorative and often linked to the macho degradation of women’s ideas, wishes and desires. It is in this sense that I hear that word, its use, as a title seemed to me as strange as it is interesting.

Deena is often portrayed as a new generation leader who breaks free from codes, borders, and who fights to take back control of her identity. What do you think of this movement and your own place in it?

NC: It is true that the uprising of 2011 in Tunisia has opened gaps within the dominating structures, but Tunisia is also a place that is far from coinciding with the fantasized vision of a generational boom. The ones who managed to free themselves from some constraints remain minority and suffer from a great methodical tension aimed at domesticating, closing themselves in, and camouflaging into the dominant culture. For example, the ones that are here in western hemisphere, continue to project this exotic and paternalistic vision on formerly colonized countries… For the rest of our generation, artists or not, the horizon remains walled, the political violence and trading society’s daily fight is weighing on them, and the desire for emancipation might at any time sink into their disillusionment. What we need, us who have won our spurs elsewhere, is to cultivate our critical and creative visions, to never feel in our place (E.Saïd), to prefer wandering to identity, temporary crossings to the same and the similar, to leave home, to extract ourselves from the specific… it is from there that new thing can emerge and occur. Our generation needs to forge its own tools, to rediscover its memory, to re-interrogate what is buried within it, from colonialism that is found In our social tissues, to create its own stories and deconstruct the official one… that work can only be done by and for ourselves. Frantz Fanon said, “Each generation must, in a relative transparency, discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”. This is indeed what is at stake today. 


Le battement des ailes A, C, D - Courtesy of Selma Feriani Gallery & Nidhal Chamekh 



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