Francis Alÿs explores issues ranging from political structures and transnational boundaries to questions of how the individual makes sense of social representations and cultural mythologies. He has produced a complex body of work encompassing video, painting, performance, documentary film and photography.
Although his studio is based in Mexico City, Alÿs has collaborated on numerous projects with local communities around the world, from South America to North Africa and the Middle East, over the last 20 years. One of his noteworthy participatory works, When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), took place in Peru, where 500 volunteers worked with shovels over the course of a day to displace a sand dune by just a few inches. Demonstrating a discrepancy between an effort and its effect, the work is a metaphor for Latin American society, in which minimal reforms are achieved through massive collective efforts.
In 2016, Alÿs initiated a new set of projects in Iraq, which include Hopscotch, produced in collaboration with the Yazidi Refugee Camp of Sharya in Duhok, and Color Matching, filmed while he was embedded with Kurdish forces during the siege of Mosul. In 2020, he produced the feature film Sandlines in collaboration with Julien Devaux and the children of a small mountain village of the Nineveh province, which premiered at international festivals including Sundance, International Film Festival Rotterdam and FID Marseille.
His work has been featured in solo exhibitions worldwide at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2018); Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK (2018); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2017); Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana, Cuba (2016); Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City (2015); documenta 13, Kassel, Germany, and Kabul, Afghanistan (2012); Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2013); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011); and Tate Modern, London (2010), among others.
Alÿs studied engineering and architecture at the Institut Supérieur d'Architecture Saint-Luc in Tournai, Belgium (1978–1983) and the Instituto Universitario di Architettura, Venice (1983–1986).
Born in 1959 in Antwerp, Alÿs lives and works in Mexico City.
Genealogies in the Middle East and Latin America (2021)
Sharjah Biennial 14
Sharjah Art Foundation presents a series of online film screenings jointly organised with Anna Goetz, who initiated this collaborative project featuring 21 artists and collectives from the Middle East and Latin America working in film and video.
Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber