Neïl Beloufa’s art takes on war monuments and disgraced world leaders

“We are at war,” says Neïl Beloufa when discussing “L’Ennemi de mon ennemi,” his current exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Breathless, restless, and with a staccato punctuated by frequent drags on a cigarette, the 33-year-old French Algerian artist describes making art that tackles ideas of representation and political ideologies. Certainly, in the past decade, his practice has broken down the distinctions between sculpture, video, technology, robotics, political provocation, and social activism—and even the power and limitations of an artist to show or appropriate work.

For the past few months, Beloufa and his team have been fabricating and assembling a vast arsenal of sculptural pieces, each one taking aim at the bitter ironies and questionable notions of social stability that frame our understanding of the world. If that sounds like a monumental endeavor, that’s because it is—the works include reconstructions of war monuments, authentic army museum artifacts, footage of various disgraced world leaders (often interacting), the physical archeological remains of the demolished Soviet Pavilion from the 1937 International Exposition in Paris, a collection of selfies taken at sensitive memorial sites, and even an immersive installation piece that simulates a village being bombed. Beloufa has set a majority of the sculptures on metal stands, which roving machines pick up and reposition in different parts of the space—in effect, putting the exhibition in a constant state of flux.

“In a way, this project is propaganda,” says Beloufa, who has also incorporated into the exhibition works of other artists—from contemporaries such as Camille Blatrix, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Jon Kessler to masters such as Gustave Courbet, Jean-Luc Godard, and Sigmar Polke. “Art and politics are two separate entities. The only way to be political in art is to consider the way it’s conceived, disseminated, and received by the public. Otherwise, it’s an art object. I’m interested in a world that keeps adding ideas instead of opposing them.”