New museum brings art to war-weary Algerians

Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:49am EST
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By Tom Pfeiffer

ALGIERS (Reuters Life!) - A new modern art museum in Algiers aims to spearhead cultural renewal in a city where only 10 years ago artists were targets for assassins.

A state of emergency shoved artistic life to the margins in the 1990s as Islamic insurgents battled government forces and massacres, bombings and murders traumatized the population.

"People went to work then barricaded themselves indoors," said Mohammed Djehiche, director of Algeria's National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMA).

The violence has mostly subsided but the north African country is still marred by widespread unemployment and insecurity. Many young people say they lack money for artistic pursuits after feeding and clothing themselves.

On a busy street lined with decaying colonial-era tenements, the museum's fresh white walls and intricate Moorish-style architecture draw the eyes of passers-by.

The museum, once a luxury department store for colonists when Algeria was a French province, was inaugurated in late 2007 but opened fully late last year.

On a week-day afternoon, about a dozen visitors strolled through the brightly lit museum showing abstract paintings by Peruvian artist Sergio Silva Cajahuaringa. Staff said hundreds visited the museum at weekends.

"To be honest, I cannot really identify with these paintings, but it is art and it is here," said IT sales manager Ghomrassane Bouayed. "Art and war cannot co-exist."   Continued...