Civil engagement leads to multimedia installation at The Barnes

A still from the “Horse Day” film in “Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders.”
A still from the “Horse Day” film in “Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders.” COURTESY PHOTOS
An untitled photograph by Mohamed Bourouissa.
An untitled photograph by Mohamed Bourouissa.

IF YOU GO

What: “Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders.”

When: Through Oct. 2.

Where: The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays, plus 6 to 9 p.m. the first Friday of the month and select Friday evenings.

Admission: $25, $23 for seniors 65+, $10 for students (free to college students on weekdays) and youths 6-18, free to members and children 5 and under.

Info.: Call (215) 278-7200 or visit www.barnesfoundation.org for tickets.

A French-Algerian artist busts the American, white, male cowboy stereotype in “Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders.”

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is the sweet spot for this particular exhibition because the wildly diverse assemblage of works all have to do with a 2013-2014 collaborative neighborhood revitalization and youth empowerment project led by Bourouissa in North Philly’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

The artist — who seeks to, in his words, build “bridges, interactions and exchanges” — became fascinated by photographs taken by Martha Camarillo of members of the horsemen of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. Formed more than 100 years ago, when horses played a far bigger role in city life, the riding club evolved into a safe haven for inner-city youth to learn to ride and care for horses. Bourouissa learned that today the North Philadelphia club is in the heart of a community facing socioeconomic pressures similar to those of his own former neighborhood. In 2008 Fletcher Street’s paddocks and stables were demolished by order of the city, and many of the horses had to be sold off. The club is raising money to construct new stables and storage buildings.

Over the course of eight months, Bourouissa worked with other artists and the Fletcher Street club’s riders to stage a “Horse Day” equestrian event and block party, which involved outfitting the horses with attention-grabbing costumes, then participating in a riding competition. The documentation of the event in photos, drawings, flyers and more, depicts the riders transcending their economic circumstances. A highlight is a 13-minute, two-channel film with footage from Horse Day, with visitor seating made of an assemblage of auto seats welded in groups to a metal frame.

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“One of the riders said: ‘With a horse, I can go anywhere’,” said the exhibit’s curator, Sylvie Patry, the Barnes Foundation’s deputy director for collections and exhibitions and Gund family chief curator.

Several of the modernist-pageantry costumes from “Horse Day” are featured in the installation. Shelby Donnelly, who created a take on the victory garlands worn by winning racehorses, said it makes noise when it’s in motion because it’s composed of jump ropes and mixed media. “I was excited to tear open the jump ropes to discover a bunch of weird fabric inside,” she said.

Since the Horse Day project, the suburban-Paris artist has created some strikingly large mixed media sculpture, made from discarded car parts with photographs of the Fletcher Street riders printed on them and mixed with harnesses, bits and other pieces of horseback riding gear. The sculptural pieces — from a series titled “The Hood” — conjure connections between the car and the horse, and are also included in the “Urban Riders” exhibit, which is on view in the Aileen and Brian Roberts Gallery through Oct. 2.

Barnes Foundation executive director and president Thom Collins noted that this is the first U.S. appearance for “Urban Riders,” as well as Bourouissa’s first major solo show in Philadelphia, and called it a “smart and moving show.” Patry stated in a press release: “‘Urban Riders’ conveys a humanistic approach to contemporary challenges and societal tensions. The ideas of social justice and transformation present in Mohamed’s work resonate here at the Barnes. Dr. Barnes supported the Harlem Renaissance and took a democratic approach to the display and appreciation of art, highlighting the connections between cultures and artistic traditions.

My hope is that this exhibition furthers new dialogue and establishes a link between the shared experiences of marginalized communities, especially young people of color.”

The accompanying catalogue explores Bourouissa’s other previous, internationally acclaimed works that address contemporary issues around culture, race and class.

His work has been shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem, N.Y.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany; the MAXXI in Rome, Italy; the Palais de Tokyo and Centre Pompidou, both of Paris, France; and the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. Share your exhibit photos on social media with #UrbanRiders.