THUGS, Karim Ghelloussi by Sonia Recasens

“Fictions inspired by the works of Karim Ghelloussi”

Published in June 2020

(Made in Local – Season #5 ACROSS #25)



On the occasion of the 5th season of ACROSS, thankyouforcoming has commissioned texts from art critics and exhibition curators in residence on the French Riviera.
Of a relatively brief format, these texts comply with a common narrative arc: namely placing the artists and initiatives encountered by the residents during their stay at the heart of the writing process.
We hope you enjoy discovering these distinctive perspectives, which will in the long run constitute an original overview of contemporary creation in the Alpes Maritimes department!

Artist’s website

Residency of Sonia Recasens

“THUGS – Fictions inspired by the works of Karim Ghelloussi”

Passengers of silence

It is 4pm and, as usual, Laarbi heads to the old port to sit on his bench. Wearing his astrakhan hat which highlights his white hair, he looks at the sea, the boats passing by. In the fifteen years he has been holding on to this small ritual, things have changed quite a bit. Starting with him. His wrinkles are more abundant and deep; his gait is more lopsided now that he walks with the help of a cane. Forty years of constructing and manufacturing doesn’t leave one unscathed. His body is pain-riddled: knee, back, shoulder… When it’s not one, it’s the other. In his room, there’s a bag full of pills to be taken during or after meals, two or three times a day. He gets confused. Especially since he cannot read. Between the pills, the prescriptions, the social security forms, the health coverage forms… Papers, so many papers. Enough is enough! The French are afraid that he’ll take advantage of the system, that he’ll commit fraud. So they watch him like a common thug. They check his passport, they pay him visits at home… After all those years spent working like a dog here for over there, he thought his status as a Chibani (old man) would gain him respect and that retirement would be synonymous with rest.


Admittedly, he wasn’t supposed to stay this long. He had planned to work for a few years to make as much money as possible before returning home and starting a family. He worked hard but earned little. He sent everything home. He kept the bare minimum to eat, stay clean and smoke. When he arrived here, he slept in slums. The rain seeped everywhere, so he was always tinkering, reinforcing, patching up with bits of wood, of metal and plastic. He then discovered the SONACOTRA worker dormitories. “Temporary housing for temporary workers”. And here he is, fifty years on, still living in one of those temporary residences turned resting homes for retired temporary immigrant workers. He doesn’t know what happened exactly. In his mind’s eye, he replays the film of his life in reverse, but cannot figure it out. The time was never right for him to return home. There was corruption, terrorism, then more corruption… He would go home for the summer holidays, to see his wife, his children and his house. In the boat over, he was happy to go home, but, once there, all he wanted to do was come back here. He felt he was in the way. His children barely spoke to him, except to ask for money. His wife didn’t really need him. Besides, he had gotten used to life as a single man. So he travelled back by boat, returned to his small room in the residence, his small collection of knickknacks which he picked up in charity shops. He went back to work in the factory. The work was hard, but he had good friends. When the factories started shutting down, the fellowship among the workers gave way to suspicion, to resentment. He was no longer a simple worker. He was an immigrant, stealing work from the deserving French. Yet, in the early 1970s, foreign workers were considered necessary and beneficial. With the years and rising unemployment, migrant workers became unwelcome, parasites. He remained dignified. He was discreet, kept a low profile. He didn’t speak up when he ended up with a miserable pension because some of his employers hadn’t bothered declaring him. He clenched his fists, gritted his teeth. He felt powerless.

What a waste!


So he scans the horizon and realizes the sea is his only refuge. The in-between. He’s not proud to think that way because he knows. He knows that the sea has become a graveyard. He has seen so many migrants flooding in since he has been here: Harragas from North Africa, the black Kahlouche, Kosovars, Roma, Syrians, Libyans… He has seen shantytowns erected and dismantled, residences change names, police checks on the increase, lines for the food bank and the prefecture getting longer.

The scent of the promised Land has evaporated.

Today, he feels drained by this life of turmoil and solitude. He waits for death as he looks at the sea, which he sailed, fifty years ago, in the hope of a better life.

Like thousands of others, he has left without ever arriving.

Memories of the Jungle

Karim is an artist. But he doesn’t paint or sculpt. That’s bourgeois stuff. No. He tinkers, fiddles, slathers, scavenges, he assembles wood scraps, bits, to create the images embedded in his mind. Media images, personal memories like those of the concrete landscapes of his childhood in Val d’Argent, in which the voice of a scumbag who had come to pressure clean the deprived suburbs echoes. But all he managed to do was to fan the flames. There are many scumbags in the jungle: Milton Friedman, Christine Lagarde, Muammar Gaddafi… Challenging them, slowly but surely, an army of men and women are rising up. Their fists raised, brandishing flags, their crowns of flowers or their feather headdresses adjusted… The revolution is underway. Scumbags vs thugs.

Sonia RECASENS, May 2020 (translated by Aisling Halleman)


Légendes :

Karim Ghelloussi, Sans titre (« Je suis ouvrier. À l’usine on me dit ouvrier, mais, hors de l’usine, on me dit immigré parce qu’ils ont oublié que j’étais ouvrier.»), 2014
Matériaux mixtes
Crédit photo : Karim Ghelloussi

Karim Ghelloussi, Sans titre (Passagers du silence), 2011-2014
Résine et mortier, 15 personnages échelle 1
Crédit photo : Karim Ghelloussi

Karim Ghelloussi, Mémoire de la jungle, 2018
Chutes de bois sur panneaux de bois, 113,5 x 158 cm
Crédit photo : Karim Ghelloussi