From the time of the seizure of the oasis by the French army in 1844 until today, the once-famous desert tourist town of Biskra has excited a myriad of pictorial representations, from paintings and hand-drawn maps to postcards and stereoscopic photos, to newsreel films and Technicolor romances. The exhibition has been sparked by responses of European avant-gardists who visited around 1900: André Gide for letters (his The Immoralist), Henri Matisse for art (Blue Nude, Souvenir of Biskra), and Bela Bartok for music (phonographs of Arab song that influenced his later work). For the first time a detailed image of this place of aesthetic revelation, where luxury and squalor jostled, is revealed in the cross-cultural richness of its contested histories, colonial and postcolonial.
Curated by Roger Benjamin. He is an Australian art historian who trained at the University of Melbourne and Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia.