Tunisian artist Hela Lamine presents works from her widely discussed exhibition The Unsecret Life of Samantha.C for the first time in Switzerland. The French publication Le Nouvel Obs – Rue 89 published the following explanation of this series: ‘Hela compiled everything she found [on the Facebook profile of SamanthaC.]: statuses, personal information, geolocation[s], but mostly 333 photos recorded over 34 months, from April 2014 to August 2015, when Samantha restricted access to her profile. It is from this material that Hela was inspired to create her graphic works’ (L’Obs, 13 November 2015).
After the process of creation had ended, ‘Hela sent a series of messages to SamanthaC, to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and the US Embassy in Tunis to explain her approach,’ wrote Psychologies Magazine in its 19-November-2015 issue. Lamine managed to talk to SamanthaC. about her work over Skype and invited her to the exhibition opening at the A. Gorgi Contemporary Art Gallery. [An explanation by the artist of her approach can be seen in an interview on TV5Monde.]
Although this unusual initiative led to sermons in the press on the importance of protecting one’s privacy on social media, the significance of Hela Lamine’s work is far more profound. Admittedly, the Internet is an ideal place for the paired opposites of exhibitionism and voyeurism, exposure and secrecy, but the significance of the relation between the subject of a work of art and its creator has always been multiform. Such a relationship becomes more complex when the viewer is added to the equation since the latter has an even more privileged perspective, observing the subject through the work while also observing what the work reveals of the artist. A fusion of identities also occurs on another level.
There is something inherently political in a Tunisian artist appropriating the personal performance of an American citizen. Not only is the subject American, but so too is the medium that allowed for so much of this harvested information to be shared carelessly or carefreely, depending on your point of view. The United States as spectacle, the United States permanently in the limelight, the United States as star of its own reality TV show – these are scenarios that are being played out today. The Tunisian artist appropriated a culturally specific demonstration intended for an American audience (real or imagined) and made it into something new. The result is reminiscent of the world in which we live, where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are constantly redrawn, where cultures are permeated by each other and where a subject becomes the arena for a play for ascendancy between various identities.
Hela Lamine has maintained contact with SamanthaC., whose full name was chosen before her Facebook profile as being representative of the everywoman. Bit by bit, after a first reaction of shock from the subject, trust has been established. The artist and her muse published a Facebook profile for this other Samantha C., a character constituted of both of them, and plan to work together on a new project. Lamine turns her slightly mocking – and sometimes openly derisive – gaze on her subject, SamanthaC., but this gaze also sweeps the artist herself, her loved ones and her private universe in her art. The exhibited works have been chosen from various periods to present Hela Lamine’s mischievous, playful and ironically questioning intelligence to a new audience.
Hela Lamine participated in the Art Paris Art Fair 2017 at the Grand Palais and has exhibited at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris (three times), at CentroCentro in Madrid, the ifa Gallery in Berlin, Asociación Alcultura in Algeciras, the Bardo National Museum in Tunis (twice), and the A. Gorgi Contemporary Art Gallery in Sidi Bou Said, among many other art institutions.
Lamine graduated from the Tunis Institute of Fine Arts and the Panthéon-Sorbonne University of Paris, and is currently preparing a doctoral thesis in fine arts. She also teaches at the Higher Institute of Fine Arts of Sousse, in Tunisia.