The Barzakh of Home

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Lydia Ourahmane is a contemporary artist living in Barcelona and currently in residency in Lecce, writing and researching for the next project at KW Institute (Berlin). Her current work, Barzakh, is on as a temporary exhibition at S.M.A.K. in Ghent until September 18. Originally a project commissioned by Kunsthalle Basel and co-produced by Triangle-Astérides in Marseille, it is a collection of objects from an apartment she rented in Algiers. With the help of friends, she was able to transport the objects to Europe and plans to return them when the exhibit in Ghent concludes. In Barzakh, she raises questions around the concept of home, belonging, limbo and restriction. 

Do you feel any sort of differences to how the exhibition is being received here in Ghent versus Basel or Marseille?

Well, Barzakh has now been touring for over a year since it first premiered in Basel. It was a very specific moment, with lockdowns, restrictions etc. The context of that exhibition in Basel was not knowing what we could or couldn’t do. Previously, when I was living in Algiers, the lockdown happened while I was living in my apartment, which started to trigger a lot of questions. It’s where the idea for the work came from.

What is home? What are these objects?

The apartment felt theatrical to me while I was living there, in and amongst all these objects that weren’t mine during the lockdown. It’s like any kind of desire, you aren’t able to fully grasp the thing you long for; you then become in and around that fiction. The reality of my living in Algiers in this apartment was very unreal, very abstract and augmented. When I got stuck outside the country and couldn’t go back to Algiers, I felt a loss. The only way to articulate these feelings was to somehow destroy them. I decided to bring the objects over to Basel. I romanticised how they would come over and how I would feel; but instead, I felt it was really disturbing. I thought to myself ‘Oh my God, I’ve actually done this.’ I almost re-enacted my own trauma of my own experience of migration and of not being able to go back to Algiers. I almost forced them to join me.

What has the work taught you?

The time I spent in Algiers was in solitude, and a lot of time in a kind of dark place - I was processing a lot. And that was coming out in writing. The exhibition taught me to completely let go, to free myself from the burden of the material and not measure myself against the objects around me. It was very transformative. Overall, a complete sense of letting go of material things.

A complete sense of letting go of material things

How did the exhibition end up at SMAK in Ghent?

It was the project that was commissioned by Kunsthalle Basel, then Marseille came on board as well. The original plan was to ship the work back to Algeria after its travel to Marseille. Then last summer (2021), I got a phone call from Philippe Van Cauteren, the current artistic director at S.M.A.K., we hadn’t spoken in years. He mentioned that a curator from S.M.A.K. visited the exhibition in Marseille and wanted to work with me. My first ever collectors were a couple from Bruges, so it made sense that I do a show in Belgium with the country’s history of conceptual art as well. It felt like an ideal fit.

Now that we've largely come out of isolation, that we have this freedom again, we have this ability to move around and travel, does that change a bit your relationship with your work?

This is going to sound insane, but I have never travelled more than in the past two years. With work commitments, I was able to travel a lot. The only thing I couldn’t do was go back to Algiers. I then ended up moving to Barcelona. Also, half of the work isn’t finished yet; it has to return to Algiers and I think that is going to be such an intense moment. When the show closes at S.M.A.K., everything will be transported back to Algeria. I’ll go back as well and re-install the objects in the apartment. I know there will be a moment where it will hit me and I’ll think, ‘What happened? What is my relationship with this place (my rented apartment in Algiers) now?’ I’m terrified. Could you imagine sleeping in there again? But I couldn’t imagine anything else, after thousands of people going through those objects. Once that happens, I’ll completely understand what the exhibition has done.

Could you imagine sleeping in there again?

What can we expect from you in the future, Lydia?

I’m currently working on the creation of a myth, here in Lecce. This area is rich in mythology: it’s the perfect place to research that, even though it feels like an impossible task because the very conditions of a myth mean that it cannot be controlled or organised. Usually, it’s an unexpected, miraculous situation that happens. This October, I’ll be given a space at KW Berlin for 24 hours and there will be an event that will take place. Also at the moment, I’m focussing on tarantism, a practice done amongst the working class, mostly poor women. They would sometimes get into a bout of hysteria and musicians would come into your home and fast folk music would play to ‘cure’ the person from their psychological distress. Their way of expressing their anguish was the only way of communicating that they were suffering. I want to connect it with the women’s inability to express themselves.


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