Urban cowboys are the inspiration for an art exhibition coming to the Barnes

People riding horses in the middle of traffic is always a surprise. But in some parts of the city, it’s just a way of life. Artist Mohamed Bourouissa brings this to a larger audience with his new art exhibition at the Barnes Foundation.

Bourouissa is an Algerian artist who resides in Paris. The internationally acclaimed photographer has a special tie to Philadelphia. The work he created during his brief time living here will be on display and celebrated at “Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders,” opening on June 30. This is Bourouissa’s first large-scale solo show in the United States.

Bourouissa spent several months with the Fletcher Street Urban Rider Club in North Philadelphia in 2014. His fascination with urban cowboys sparked his inspiration for several pieces of many mediums. He took photographs, sketched drawings, shot a short film and created sculptures based on the cowboys of North Philly. He created many of his pieces while he was living in city, but the inspiration also followed him back to Paris.

The film, “Horse Day,” helps document an event that Bourouissa helped organize. Riders appear in colorful costumes in a friendly competition. Flowers and streamers add a sense that everyone is competing for the best in show. A key part of the film is the process of “horse tuning,” or having the riders take through an obstacle course and line up for pageantlike judgement. The film is a combination of a documentary and fictional film that provides a perspective on the urban cowboy. Bourouissa was fascinated with the contrast between the riders’ skills and the unlikely urban landscape where riding clubs like Fletcher manage to survive.

“For Mohamed, it’s a way of questioning the American way of life and the way history has been told, especially this very racial approach to American history,” says exhibition curator Sylvie Patry. “Everyone in Europe thought cowboys were white. When you look at scholarly books and the history of the West, that was completely untrue. Bourouissa’s story has been told in a way to contrast this stereotype in popular culture. It’s also a way of breaking these stereotypes to bring attention to a more inclusive vision.”

The exhibition features more than 85 of Bourouissa’s pieces. Although the idea of riding horses in the city seems foreign to some, the animals are still integral to these niche communities. Although horses aren’t really used for labor in the city, the ones at Fletcher still serve a purpose. Fletcher aims to teach young adults the importance of responsibility and provide a mentor through a program that involves taking care of the horses and finding productive ways to have fun.

“Seeing them is is a surprise for people who live in the city,” says Patry. “I think the artist felt the same way — there’s a sense of wonder. This project is a turning point for Bourouissa’s career.”

If you go:
“Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders”
June 30-Oct. 2
Barnes Foundation
2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

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