In 2014, internationally recognized French-Algerian artist Mohamed Bourouissa spent eight months immersed in a North Philadelphia neighborhood that’s perhaps best known for its urban cowboys.
Now, the Barnes Foundation has unveiled the artistic product of that experience with the U.S. premiere of Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders, on view through the fall at the Barnes on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
- Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders runs through October 2, 2017 at the Barnes Foundation
- The exhibit features 85 works, including drawings, photographs, sculptures and a brief video.
- Urban Riders exhibition access is included with general museum admission, $10-$25.
The exhibition includes around 85 pieces — sketches, sculptures, costumes, photos, video — and focuses on Bourouissa’s time in North Philly with the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, an equestrian club. The exhibit addresses much more than horseback riding, though, tackling the fraught themes of social justice and inner-city culture that the artist has long grappled with in his body of work.
A portrayal of a single horse-riding event held in 2014, “Horse Day,” Urban Riders gives observers the chance to see the neighborhood and its youth through Bourouissa’s perceptive lens.
Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club & Background
Established a century ago as one of many urban equestrian clubs in Philadelphia, Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has survived and evolved into a community center that now serves as a haven where inner-city youth can learn to ride and tend horses.
Bourouissa, who grew up in the low-income banlieues of Paris, was drawn to North Philadelphia to explore the parallels between his home town and the socioeconomic-pressured neighborhood around Fletcher. He immersed himself in the community of riders to observe, collaborate and ultimately produce an emotionally profound art project.
In substance, the exhibition is a robust collection of sketches Bourouissa drew in anticipation of the 2014 “Horse Day” event, photographs organized as collages, select sculptures made of varying media forms and a 13-minute video that subverts the idea of what it means to be a cowboy, tapping both fiction and nonfiction to make its point.
What’s In Urban Riders
At the Barnes, the approximately 85-work installation takes over the Roberts Gallery and was designed by the artist with the participation of riders from the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club.
Exhibition highlights include a central a massive wooden cabinet constructed by Fletcher riders and adorned with sketches and photographs; costumes and sculptures, some of which were crafted by outside artists in response to the “Horse Day” community event; and “The Ride,” a sculpture Bourouissa made specifically for the Barnes’ exhibit. It’s a black-and-white gelatin silver print on a car metal plate, connected with a car’s body part and then spray-painted.
Sharp-eyed visitors will notice car parts are used elsewhere in the exhibit, too, both as seats for the video and as canvasses for images of the riders – symbolically, meant to contrast the other “ride” found in urban neighborhoods.
Perhaps the most poignant image of the exhibit, the sizable and central “Skin and paper,” a photograph of an African-American youth with a dollar bill balanced on his forehead.
Programs and Events
The Barnes will offer a slew of related events in conjunction with the exhibition.
In addition to regularly scheduled First Friday events, on Wednesday, July 19 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. the Barnes hosts a talk by Ron Tarver — a Swarthmore College professor who’s also spent time documenting the Fletcher club as a photographer.
Rounding out the programming is an open house (yes, free admission!) and Indego bike ride that takes bike-riders around the city and ends with a viewing of the Urban Riders exhibit. The open house celebrates not only the exhibition, but the Barnes Collection-inspired wrapped Indego bikes, too.
General admission includes access to Urban Riders. Admission cost is $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $10 for students and youth. Admission is free for members and through the week for college students with a valid ID.
Tickets are available online.