"As more and more work comes to light, so do the names of remarkable artists, well known to their contemporaries, now known within a global framework. Lazhar Mansouri (1932-1985) is one."
- Holland Cotter, The New York Times, 2007
Lazhar Mansouri (1932-1985) was an Algerian photographer active from the late 1950s through the 1970s in Aïn Beïda (Aurés Mountains region, Northern Algeria). During this period, he owned and operated a photography studio and created an archive of local everyday people and rarely photographed indigenous tribes.
Mansouri first encountered photography as a child while accompanying his grandmother to a local bazaar, where he met a photographer operating a studio in the back of a barber shop. The same photographer later hired him as an apprentice, allowing Mansouri an introduction to the craft. After his training, he left to open his own small studio in the back of a grocery store. Mansouri’s photo studio served thousands of Algerians with their photographic needs from id card photos to documenting family occasions. From the images reflected, Mansouri photographed weddings, births, children, graduations, portraits, friends, and family.
The Mansouri studio was highly active during the last years of the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), and after the Provisional Executive of France declared Algeria’s independence on July 5, 1962, Mansouri continued to fulfill the photographic needs of the growing community in Aïn Beïda. During the early 1980s and after Mansouri's death, his family considered the necessity of burning what could be deemed as controversial negatives. Luckily, part of the patrimony was saved by another photographer from the region who saw its historic importance. It is estimated that the archive included at one time tens of thousands of negatives.
Lazhar Mansouri's photographs are documented in the archives of the Museum of Modern Art and the Hirsch Library of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. His work is in numerous public and private collections include the US State Department (Algiers), the Qatar Museums, and more.
PORTRAITS FROM AÏN BEÏDA, 1950-80
The Mansouri archive reflects the tumultuous spirit of the times and the ethnic and social make-up of the region. Through Mansouri’s studio portraits we can witness the growth of the Algerian middle class replacing the French colonists and its synchronic evolution with Europe. The photographs also reflect the military and political atmosphere of the period.
The images are a commentary of the time, reflected through families, youth, Bedouin, Imazighen (Berber), soldiers, and personal portraits, with an emphasis on custom, kitsch, fashion and a familiar need for youth to be looked upon as 'cool'. Plastic plants, columns and various patterned curtains serve as minimal backdrops in the studio and often the subjects mix Western and ethnic garb.
© Lazhar Mansouri
PORTRAITS OF AMAZIGH WOMEN, 1960s
During Mansouri’s lifetime, the demographic of the Aurès Mountain region saw a resurgence of Islamic culture after over 130 years of French occupation. For tribes such as the local Chaoui within the Imazighen, Mansouri's images could have been the only photograph across their entire lifetime, and inadvertently the last generation of Amazigh women to undergo facial tattooing called Ushem or Tchiradh in local dialects.
Facial tattooing was a rite of passage for young Amazigh girls often applied at the onset of puberty in transition to womanhood. The shapes, which include a sun (shams), a palm tree, a chain (cinsla), and flies (thabanat), were considered symbolic to Amazigh culture. A significant shape is the diamond or eye of a partridge (ain hijla), which takes its importance from the partridge, a bird of great grace, its sharp eyes are thought as vigilant watchers against danger.
© Lazhar Mansouri
SELECTED GALLERY EXHIBITIONS
2020 - Lazhar Mansouri, Lifting the Veil: Photographs of Amazigh Women, WESTWOOD GALLERU NYC
Reviewed by Middle East Eye, Musée Magazine, Newsletter of the Algerian Embassy.
2008 - US Embassy, Algiers. Art in Embassies program.
2007 - Lazhar Mansouri, Portraits of A Village, WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC
Reviewed by the New York Times, Art in America, Art News, Artnet, New York Observer.
2007 - Besançon, France. Musée du Temps
2007 - Rome, Italie. Maison de la Littérature
2006 - Aubenas, France. Manifestation France Algérie
2005 - Mayenne en France
2004 - Lausanne, Suisse
2004 - Montreuil, Musée Art et Histoire
2003 - Bienne, Suisse. Centre Pasquart
2003 - Milan, Italie. Palais Royal with the support of Edizione Mazzotta
2003 - Montpellier, France. Montpellier photo visio