Listen to the Recordings of Our Round Table on the French Colonial Continuum with Samia Henni, Hassina Mechaï, and Léopold Lambert


Ella Martin-Gachot – Paris on July 12, 2018
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On June 19, 2018 Samia Henni, Hassina Mechaï, and Léopold Lambert participated in a round table discussion organized in parallel of the opening of Samia Henni’s exhibit “Discreet Violence : L’architecture et la guerre française en Algérie” at La Colonie in Paris. After having been presented in Zurich, Rotterdam, Berlin, and Johannesburg, the exhibit made its French premiere. The round table was opened by an introduction by Kader Attia, Algerian French artist and founder of La Colonie. You can listen to a recording of the full round-table discussion here, split up into 5 parts (introduction, the three different presentations, and the public debate). Nb. the recordings are all in French.

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Samia Henni presenting her work. / Photo by Helene Harder.

During the round table, Samia Henni, who recently published her book Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeriapresented her work on the politics of suppression of slums in Algiers that the French colonial authorities had implemented during the Algerian Revolution (1954-1962) and the application of these practices in Paris, particularly in the suburb of Nanterre. Samia spoke of the connections between the “Sections administratives urbaines” (Urban Administrative Sections) in Algiers and the “Société nationale de construction de logements pour les travailleurs algériens à Paris” (National Company for the Construction of Housing for Algerian Workers in Paris) and of the interchangeability of French civil servants between the colonized land (Algeria) and metropolitan France.

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Léopold Lambert presenting his work on October 17, 1961 and the spatial history of the French state of emergency. / Photo by Helene Harder.

Following Samia’s presentation, Léopold Lambert gave a spatial history of the massacre of Algerians by the Paris police on October 17, 1961 in Paris. October 17 marks an important date in the trajectory of the French “état d’urgence” (state of emergency) that constitutes the topic of his next book. Using various geographical and historical sources, Léopold demonstrated the fact that the event, which is usually perceived as a localized and isolated moment of violence on the part of the Parisian police against Algerian protesters, was actually the result of the mobilization of numerous spaces and temporalities in and around Paris, while providing the context (also explored by Samia) of Maurice Papon’s time as Police Chief for the Seine region and of the state of emergency declared in 1961 (lasting until 1962).

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Hassina Mechaï presenting her book, L’etat d’urgence (permanent), co-written with Sihem Zine.. / Photo by Helene Harder.

To conclude the presentation part of the round table discussion, Hassina Mechaï discussed the book she co-wrote with Sihem Zine, L’état d’urgence (permanent) or (Permanent) State of Emergency. From a legal point of view, the authors questioned the usefulness, effectiveness, and impacts of this exceptional “state” that, since October 2017, has been integrated into French common law. Hassina spoke of previous states of emergency, like that of 1961-1962, and of the people she met while doing research, who are living the searches of their apartments and businesses, the house arrests, the closing of places of worship, and the pervasive discrimination that go along with this legislation.

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Discussion opened up to the public- Françoise Vergès speaks.. / Photo by Helene Harder.

After these rich presentations, the discussion was opened up to the audience. Three-time contributor to the Funambulist Françoise Vergès offered her insight on the politics of decolonial space. Another member of the crowd stood up and shared with us that he is himself a survivor of the October 1961 massacre. Later on, we moved upstairs for the opening of the exhibit, with Samia Henni elaborating on the different photographs and archival material.

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Samia Henni’s exhibition “Discreet Violence.” / Photo by Helene Harder.

Please do visit the exhibit which will stay at La Colonie until July 14, 2018. For a more detailed description of the exhibit, see below.

Brief of the exhibition: During the Algerian Revolution (1954-1962) or the Algerian War for Independence, civil authorities and the French military intensely reorganized the urban and rural territory of Algeria, radically transforming its built environment, rapidly implanting new infrastructures, and strategically creating new businesses in order to protect France’s economic interests in Algeria and to keep the country under French colonial dominion (in place since 1830).

“Discreet Violence” presents only one of these territorial transformations: the construction of camps under military control, mildly baptized as “reunification centers”, in rural Algerian areas. These spaces were a result of the creation of areas where free fire was prohibited, and they produced a massive forced displacement of the Algerian population. Special military units, called “Sections administratives spécialisées” (or Specialized Administrative Sections), supervised the evacuation of the prohibited zones, the “reunification” of the Algerian population, the construction of temporary and permanent camps, the conversion of several permanent camps into villages, and the daily surveillance of Algerian civilians. The goal of this “reunification” was to isolate the Algerian population from the influence of members of the national liberation front and to hinder potential psychological and material help.

Based on French military photographs françaises and on films produced by the propaganda teams of the Service cinématographique des armées (SCA) or Cinematographic Army Service and other private and public sources, “Discreet Violence: architecture et guerre française en Algérie” presents certain aspects of the evacuation of the rural Algerian population, the process of the construction of these camps and living conditions in the camps. The exhibit describes the way in which the French colonial regime attempted to divert the military aims of the camps following a media scandal in 1959. It unveils the intrinsic relationships between architecture, military measures, colonial politics, and the planned production and distribution of visual recordings. Today, the SCA has become the institution of defense audiovisual communication and production (ECPAD) and is still active in war zones where the French army involved.

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Samia Henni’s exhibition “Discreet Violence.” / Photo by Helene Harder.