Artistic Strategies by non-artists

Bouchra Khalili
Arts and Society, Artistic Strategies
2021S, scientific seminar (SEW), 4.0 ECTS, 2.0 semester hours, course number S03658


Artistic Strategies by Non-Artists, Part II: Al Assifa (1973-1978).

The first part of the seminar focused on representation of class belonging with the film production of the Medvedkine Group, a group of factory workers from the East of France, active from 1969 to 1974  who engaged with cinema as a mean to bear witness to their living and working conditions.

The second part of the seminar will engage with questions of self-representation of members of migrant workers communities during the same years, with the pionneering - although forgotten - work of Al Assifa.

Al Assifa (« The Tempest » in Arabic) is a theatre group that was active in Paris from 1973 to 1978. The group was composed of North African factory workers, members of the MTA (Mouvement des Travailleurs Arabes/ Movement of Arab Workers: 1972-1979), and French students supporting their cause. North-African migrant workers created the MTA in order to raise awareness on the living and working conditions of immigrant communities.

The first initiative of Al Assifa was to publish a weekly newspaper called Al Assifa, The Voice of Arab Workers, distributed in Arab cafés in Paris, addressing issues pertaining to the condition of immigrants. But the high percentage of illiteracy among the North African workers led the group to change their strategy and develop a “theatrical newspaper,” engaging workers through plays and oral storytelling.

The theatrical performances staged by Al Assifa took the form of fragmentary pieces, developed from conversations and improvisations, such as their first play « Ça travaille, ça travaille, et ça ferme sa gueule » (« Work, Work, and Shut Your Mouth »). Performed in factories, open-air plaza, community centers, and theaters in France and Francophone communities across Europe, Al Assifa’s performances were subject to public debate with the audience. Reactivating the Al Halqa tradition—the most ancient form of public performance in North-Africa — the audience was an active part of the storytelling, turning the public space into a civic performative platform.

To investigate the artistic strategies of Al Assifa. the seminar will be structured into three parts:

1: Examination of the performative strategies developed by Al Assifa.

Experimenting with the tradition of public storytelling in North Africa and post-brechtian conception of performance as investigated by avant-garde theater makers from North Africa (Algerian writer Kateb Yacine and Moroccan stage director Tayeb Sadiqi), Al Assifa developed innovative forms of self-representation for underrepresented groups as well a platform for going public, transforming the terms of public debate with regards to issues of diaspora.

2: Case study: The Tempest Society

the seminar will examine how Khalili as an artist investigated and reactivated Al Assifa performative strategies for her Tempest Society (video installation, 2017, 60’), premiered at documenta 14 (Athens, Kassel), and exhibited for her solo exhibition at Secession in Vienna in 2018, among other venues and contexts. The artist's publication “The Tempest Society” (Book Works, London, 2019, 200 pages) will also serve as material for discussion.

3: Proposals for Artistic Strategies:

Students will select and examine one case study of their choice belonging to the history of civil rights movements and focus on strategies of public visibility. Students are invited to develop a proposal for an artistic strategy, re-activating for the present-time that heritage.


Examination Modalities

Attendance & Active Participation: 80%

Presentation of a case study (Collective work is encouraged): 20%


The numbers of participants is limited to 20 students.





Key Words

installation, film installation, video installation, art in public space, performance, Curator, film, public space


09 March 2021, 13:00–15:30 Distance Learning (details as described)
16 March 2021, 13:00–15:30 Distance Learning (details as described)
19 March 2021, 13:00–15:30 Distance Learning (details as described) , "Conversation with Dr. Abdellali Hajjat, Associate Professor of Sociology at ULB, Brussels. "
13 April 2021, 13:00–15:30 Distance Learning (details as described)
27 April 2021, 13:00–15:30
11 May 2021, 13:00–15:30
01 June 2021, 13:30–16:00, "Conversation with Hendrik Folkerts, art historian and curator. Dittmer curator of modern and contemporary art, Art Institute of Chicago. Previous curatorial positions include Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam) and documenta 14 (Kassel/Athens)"
08 June 2021, 13:00–15:30

Course Enrolment

From 07 March 2021, 23:59 to 07 March 2021, 23:59
Via online registration

co-registration: possible

Global Challenges and Sustainable Developments (Master): Applying Artistic Strategies / Radical Interventions: Artistic & Design Strategies I-II

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Bachelor): Artistic Strategies: Foundation

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Bachelor): Artistic Strategies: Deepening and Application

Individual courses: possible