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Opening Passages – Photographers in Conversation at the Alliance française

Exhibition, Talk

Assia Labbas (self portrait), Sasha Phyars-Burgess ©Eva Morel, Rebecca Topakian ©Antoine Doyen, Carl Fuldner ©Jessica Smolinski, Pascal Beausse ©Olivier Roller,

Alliance Française de Chicago
54 W. Chicago Avenue
Free Admission - In English
Chicago ,

May 7 at 6:30p.m


Join us for an engaging discussion featuring photographers Assia Labbas, Rebecca Topakian, and Sasha Phyars-Burgess, in conjunction with the French American exhibition Opening Passages, on view at the Cultural Center and three other venues across Chicago from May 4th to August 25th, 2024.

During this conversation moderated by curators Carl Fuldner and Pascal Beausse, the artists will delve into the thematic elements of their works, exploring concepts such as borders, margins, and the interplay between the center and the periphery.
Each in her own way addresses the notion of margin and the relationship between center and periphery. All three have worked in the Greater Paris area, and explore language by collecting people’s words or questioning certain expressions.

The conversation will be followed by a reception.

Carl Fuldner

Carl Fuldner is a Chicago-based art historian and curator whose work engages photography’s role in shaping environmental perspectives. He holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Chicago, where he also currently teaches as an Assistant Instructional Professor in the Master of Art Program in the Humanities and the Department of Art History. He is also a co-editor of The Art Institute of Chicago Field Guide to Photography and Media, published in 2023.

Pascal Beausse

Pascal Beausse is Head of the photography collection at the Centre national des arts plastiques (Paris). With Anna Labouze, Keimis Henni and Clément Postec, he curated the Regards du Grand Paris exhibition in 2022, presenting the works of 38 photographers who were laureates of the eponymous photographic commission launched in 2016, with the aim of building up, year after year, a corpus of images and authors’ views on the evolution of the Greater Paris.

Assia Labbas

Assia Labbas, a writer and artist from the Paris region, studied literature and journalism before contributing to publications for Bondy Blog, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair. She joined Kourtrajmé School in 2019, writing a short film screenplay and creating the Cacophonique installation exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2020. In 2021 she was a laureate of the national photographic commission Regards du grand Paris carried out by the Ateliers Médicis in collaboration with the Centre national des arts plastiques (Cnap), aimed at documenting the contemporary urban upheavals at work in the French capital.
In her RER B-ANLIEUES series, she combines photography with testimonials from users of the RER B line, which connects the northern suburbs of Paris with the center of the capital, revealing unexpected perspectives on the landscape of the area and those living in, and the impact of media discourse on the people living in Seine-Saint-Denis.

RER B-ANLIEUES, 2021 ©Assia Labbas

Rebecca Topakian

2021 laureate of the national photographic commission Regards du Grand Paris, led by the Ateliers Médicis in collaboration with the Centre national des arts plastiques (Cnap), Rebecca Topakian is a 2015 graduate of École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie of Arles. She has won several grants such as the Fondation des Artistes scholarship and the Cnap scholarship for documentary photography. She has also been awarded the Prix Fénéon and the ADIAF Emergence prize. Her book, Dame Gulizar And Other Love Stories, is due for publication in July 2024. Her work is currently featured in exhibitions such as La France sous leurs yeux at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris) and Along the crumbling wall, soon, the violet will bloom, a solo show at Borderline Art Space (Iaşi, Romania).
In her series (n=6-9), she explores the Greater Paris area through exotic birds, drawing parallels between the discourse on these birds sub- that have settled in Paris, and the discourse on other human migrations and the pejorative terminologies that surround them.

mais qu’est ce qu’invasif veut dire? series (n=6-9) [but what does “invasive” mean? series (n=6-9)], 2021, ©Rebecca Topakian

Sasha Phyars-Burgess

Sasha Phyars-Burgess, a Brooklyn native raised in Pennsylvania to Trinidadian parents, is a skilled photographer with a BA from Bard College and an MFA from Cornell University. She’s recognized as an emerging voice in contemporary photography, her work showcasing series blending documentary and fine art, exploring themes of diaspora, family, place, and social phenomena. She received the Guggenheim Fellowship Award and the Diane Dammeyer Award for her work in the neighborhood of Austin in Chicago.
In 2023, she undertook an artist residency in Paris as part of the Clichycago program at Ateliers Médicis, settingup a darkroom in a local community center to organize workshops. In both cities, she offers a vision of the long process of social and economic disinheritance experienced by marginalized urban communities, and captures their presence and grace.

SIRA, ATELIERS MEDICIS, CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, series UNTITLED AND YET TO BE DETERMINED, 48.9109° N, 2.5461° E, 2019, ©Sasha Phyars-Burgess

Opening Passages : Photographers Respond to Chicago and Paris  is part of Art Design Chicago, a citywide collaboration initiated by the Terra Foundation for American Art that highlights the city’s artistic heritage and creative communities. Since 2021, the Paris-Chicago dialogue has been flourishing under the umbrella of Clichycago: a platform for community-based cultural exchange and artistic experimentation, with the support of the Ateliers Médicis in Clichy-sous-Bois / Montfermeil (France) and Villa Albertine in Chicago.

In partnership with

Alliance française de Chicago

The Alliance Française de Chicago is over 120 years old and is part of an international network of over 1,100 Alliances and affiliated cultural centers worldwide. It is the second oldest Alliance Française in the US and second largest after the Alliance Française in New York City. Classes are offered for all ages and levels of French, leading to certifications in French for professional purposes or simply for experiencing another language and its various cultures. It also hosts an impressive array of events, bringing notable lecturers to Chicago: authors, filmmakers and directors, winemakers, chefs, designers, historians, actors and performing artists.

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Terra Foundation for the American Arts

In partnership with organizations and individuals locally and globally, the Terra Foundation fosters intercultural dialogues and encourages transformative practices to expand narratives of American art. Art Design Chicago is an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art in partnership with artists and organizations across the city that highlight the city’s artistic heritage and creative communities.

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Institut français

The Institut français is responsible for France’s international cultural program. Supervised by both the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and by the Ministry of Culture, it promotes French culture abroad through cultural exchange initiatives. Operating in a space where the arts, intellectual exchange, cultural and social innovation, and linguistic partnerships interact and intersect, it is also responsible for promoting the French language and the sharing of works, artists, and ideas all over the world. The Institut français is one of Villa Albertine’s main French partners.

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Centre national des arts plastiques (Cnap)

The Centre national des arts plastiques (Cnap) is a public institution under the French Ministry of Culture. It manages over 105,000 works from France’s national contemporary art collection, the Fonds national d’art contemporain. It aims to support and promote artistic creation in France, and assists artists and art professionals with their projects.


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Ateliers Médicis

Located in Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, the Ateliers Médicis endeavors to promote new and diverse artistic voices. Its artistic residencies, open to artists working in any artistic field, support the creation of works conceived in collaboration with French territories and fosters encounters between artists and inhabitants.


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JCDecaux operates coordinated street furniture franchises in major cities across the U.S., including here in New York. It is continuously working to connect information to stakeholders and identify municipal innovations to enhance the livability and sustainability of streetscapes. A member of the JCDecaux Group, the number one outdoor advertising company in the world, which through its three business segments – street furniture, transport and billboard, has engaged in a virtuous, sustainable business model since its founding in 1964.
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Picto New York

Picto was created in Paris in 1950 by Pierre Gassmann, a true pioneer of photography. Since then, Picto has become a leading partner of the world’s most famous photographers as well as the most prestigious brands in the world of fashion, luxury and beauty.

As part of its international expansion, Picto New York was open in 2015. Picto New York services professional photographers’ needs from scanning, retouching, printing and framing images as well as global luxury brands’ needs for image production, prepress and traffic.

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