'When I use the Quran in my work, what I'm trying to say is that this isn't just a religious book, it's a history book. It's a book that affects everything. I do understand that you know?'
(The artist quoted in B. East, "Mounir Fatmi's art without prejudice", in The National, 30 April 2013, accessed online).
One of today's most important conceptual Arab artists, Moroccan native Mounir Fatmi utilises a vast array of implicit and symbolic signature materials to critique the value systems, ideologies and technologies that shape and control our contemporary existence. Like many of his generation, he pushes the viewer to question notions of politics, regimes and pushes boundaries to free people of preconceptions of what is reality and what is fiction. In doing so, he instills an underlying sense of humour into his works that is poetic - he plays on notions of fear, doubt, death and violence in a form that is both seductive and aesthetically pleasing.
In the seminal work Ceux qui savent, ceux qui ne savent pas/People know, people don't know, Fatmi skillfully reuses coaxial cables to produce a bas-relief that recreates the phrase from the Quran Surat Az-Zumar 39:7 in the canon of traditional Arabic Calligraphy. The phrase implies that those who are knowledgeable are more able to appreciate the meaning of life and the meaning of faith than those who are not. By using this particular phrase and the use of what has essentially become a defunct medium is two-fold: the use of cables conveys a sense of energy and flux that is reflective of the dynamism in the exchange of information with developments of technology that is particularly poignant in today's political climate. In this age of fibre-optics, information has become easier to access but at the same time Fatmi believes that as a result of the media, people have lost the ability to differentiate between what is real and what is not real and thus have in some ways become less knowledgeable about what is true and what is not true. Consequently, advances in technology mean societies are moving backward not forward and have become less aware and thus less able to appreciate life and faith. It also implies that the advancement in technology has warped the way people perceive religion - Fatmi makes a clear dig here at the terrorist aspect of Islam that has dominated the media and the rise of those who claim to be Jihadist. The staples interrupt the cable's linearity creating a fuzzy connect-the-dots style image suggesting that in the media age religious morals are hard to resolve. What results is a schism between the traditional and the contemporary, the coaxial cables become material metonyms for the packaged information that increasingly constructs and controls our lives, promising but rarely delivering real connection.
Although the work is monochromatic, each section casts a delicate shadow on the surface behind. By choosing to depict the calligraphic composition in a purist white on a white background, Fatmi manages to impart a sense of serenity that is relevant to his philosophical intention. However, this technique is two-folded, it aims to also highlight the sinister subtlety in which media augments reality and removes a sense of affiliation with a specific culture or agenda. Each cable fragment is part of the regulation of a complex order, which would be completely illegible if any of the elements should leave this seemingly tangled web. By shaping these cable elements into forced shapes, Fatmi thus eliminates its functional use. The audience is thus forced to wonder where the power source is - or should be - located. In this sense, Fatmi's messages and morals are always ambiguous, representing the undefined game of give-and-take between East and West, or a general understanding of the world that is dynamic and unstable, filled with shifting perceptions and opinions.
Mounir Fatmi's works have been exhibited internationally in numerous exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, The Brooklyn Museum, New York, Museum Kunst Palast, Dsseldorf, The Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha and the Hayward Gallery in London. In 2013 he was nominated for the Jameel Prize run by the Victoria & Albert Museum.