Samia Henni: Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria
During the Algerian Revolution (1954–62), or the Algerian War of Independence, the French civil and military authorities profoundly reorganized Algeria's urban and rural territory, drastically transformed its built environments, rapidly implanted new infrastructure, and strategically built new settlements in order to protect France's economic interests in Algeria and keep Algeria under French colonial rule, which began in 1830. Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria features one aspect of these territorial transformations — the construction of militarily controlled camps dubbed the centres de regroupement (regrouping centers) in Algeria's rural areas. These spaces resulted from the creation of the forbidden zones — free-fire zones — and engendered massive forced relocations of the Algerian population. Special military units called the Sections administratives spécialisées (SAS, or Specialized Administrative Sections) supervised the evacuation of the forbidden zones, the regrouping of the Algerian population, the construction of temporary and permanent camps, and the conversion of a number of permanent camps into pseudo villages; and monitored the daily life of Algerian civilians. The aim of these camps was to isolate the Algerian population from the influence of national liberation fighters and to impede potential psychological and material support.
Based on French military photographs and films produced by the propaganda teams of the Service cinématographique des armées (SCA, or Cinematographic Service of the Armed Forces) and other public and private sources, the exhibition features certain aspects of the evacuation of the Algerian rural population, the building processes of the camps, and the living conditions in the camps. It discloses the ways in which the French colonial regime attempted to divert the military purpose of the camps in the aftermath of a media scandal of 1959. The exhibition unfolds the intrinsic relationships between architecture, military measures, colonial policies, and the planned production and distribution of visual records. Today, the SCA is called the Établissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la défense (ECPAD, or Office of Communication and Audiovisual Productions of Defense) and is still active in war zones where the French army is involved.
The exhibition, curated by Samia Henni, has also been presented at the GTA Exhibitions, ETH Zurich (April–June 2017); the New Institute in Rotterdam (September 2017–February 2018); the Archive Kabinett in Berlin (December 2017–January 2018); The Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg (April–June 2018); La Colonie in Paris (June–July 2018); and the VI PER Gallery in Prague (September–November 2018).
Samia Henni is an assistant professor of history of architecture and urban development in the Department of Architecture at AAP. She is the author of Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria (GTA Verlag, 2017) and the editor of War Zones (GTA Verlag, 2018). She has taught at Princeton University, ETH Zurich, and Geneva University of Art and Design. She received her Ph.D. (with distinction, ETH Medal) in the history and theory of architecture from the GTA Institute, ETH Zurich.
Henni will lead gallery tours from 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, and Wednesday, March 27. Meet in John Hartell Gallery.