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The end of denial about Algeria in French museums
The exhibition "Algebra of Gustave Guillaumet" at the Museum of the Pool, in Roubaix, took place from March 9 to June 2, 2019. The painter seized the period the French colonization §Age of Algeria in the nineteenth century. DENIS CHARLET / AFP

When Françoise Cohen takes the reins of the antenna of the Institut du monde arabe in Tourcoing in 2018, she has no doubt that this institution, which is struggling to settle in the Chti territory, must Address to the important local Algerian community. AT" An evidence "She says. This is how the "Photographing Algeria" exhibition, which ended on 13 July, was born. The idea is not to draw a history of Algeria by photography, but to call different eyes on this country.

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Coinciding with the calendar, a few months earlier, the Piscine, in Roubaix, proposed an "Algerian spring" with a retrospective on the work of the orientalist painter Gustave Guillaumet, "Le" 'Algeria by Gustave Guillaumet ', an implacable testimony to the beginnings of colonization, and a gallery of portraits of the tragic Abd Al-Kader, a mythical figure of anticolonial resistance in the nineteenth century.e century.

The end of denial about Algeria in French museums
During an exhibition of the antenna of the Institut du monde arabe in Tourcoing in November 2018. FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP

Nothing opportunistic in this conjunction of northern events scheduled well before the rise of anti-Bouteflika in February. Rather the sign of a growing interest of the French museums for the colonial history of France in Algeria, after forty years of denial and silence.

On the fingers of one hand

This realization dates back to 2003 with the celebrations of the year of Algeria in France. In 2004, the year in which thirty French and Algerian historians worked on the book The End of Amnesia, the historian Benjamin Stora and the writer Laurent Gervereau orchestrated the exhibition "Photographing the war of Algeria" at the Hotel de Sully, in Paris. Despite the presence of unpublished images, the gaps were numerous, especially on the daily lives of blackfoot or violent fractures within Algerian nationalism.

The end of denial about Algeria in French museums
The queen Abd Al-Kader (1808-1883), in Damascus in 1852. AFP

A turning point took place in 2012 with "Algebra 1830-1962" at the Army Museum, in the Invalides, a relentless celebration of the presence French army in Algeria, from conquest to independence, which does not study any atrocities committed on one side or the other. AT" We did not go so far as to show a bathtub or a genome, but it was out of the question not to talk about the violence of the actions of the French army. AT", says Lieutenant-Colonel Christophe Bertrand, curator of the exhibition. Another key moment, the "Made in Algeria" exhibition, in 2016 at Mucem, in Marseille, a relentless but non-arid illustration of the use of cartography in the French expansion in Algeria .

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This catch-up went hand in hand with the emergence, in the 2000s, in France, of artists of Algerian origin such as Adel Abdessemed, Zineb Sedira or Kader Attia. Until then, the acquisitions of works by Algerian artists were counted on the fingers of one hand. In 1964 and 1969, the Museum of Modern Art in the city of Paris bought two engravings by Abdallah Benanteur. After, nothing or almost nothing. The same goes for the Pompidou Center, which acquired in the 1980s only two Algerian artists, Hamid Tibouchi and Salim Le Kouaghet. This blackout, however, explains Alice Planel, a specialist in the Algerian artistic diaspora, is more aesthetic than political. AT" The artists of the years 1950-1960 were interested by the informal art and worked in a form of painting which seemed radical to them, but whose French did not want any more "She says. Today, the art world no longer hesitates to embrace the post-colonial issues raised by the Algerian artistic diaspora.

"Without shut up fury"

Has time done its work? Probably. At the Army Museum, the military leaders who had gone to war were replaced by others who only lived by proxy. The aging witnesses have given way to young historians who do not have accounts to settle nor ideological partition to defend. AT" Young researchers do not clutter from the pastadmits Benjamin Stora. They are not born in Algeria, they do not have a physical link. It's lighter to live. »« « We can tell the story more calmly, factually ", Highlights Hà © lène Orain, director of the Museum of the History of Immigration who ensures" to passionate the subjects without silencing fury AT".

The end of denial about Algeria in French museums
Algerian suspects are arrested soon after a bomb blast on a street in Constantine on August 24, 1955, during the Algerian war. AFP

Despite these advances, the memory remains broken, the subject flammable. To the point that barely elected mayor of Montpellier in 2014, Philippe Saurel has illico buried the project yet advanced Museum of the history of France and Algeria. Fear of being under the crossfire of the Blackfoot and the Algerian community who took root in the city? Without a doubt. Florence Hudowicz, curator of the collection, had proposed to design the subject, not a permanent high-risk course, but temporary exhibitions. In vain. A center of contemporary art, the Moco, was created instead and the collection of 1,100 objects joined the Mucem. Who opportunely chose not to put them in the closet.

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For four years, the museum has been attached to " to speak "This fund during sessions called" The voice of objects ", welcoming each time a hundred listeners. AT" These are very moving moments of sharing emotion, a form of catharsis, observes Florence Hudowicz. At least, it's a takeover of the word in a police place, the museum, where people respect each other and talk to each other without getting torn. »« « This brings some serenity to the debate, confirms Jean-François Chougnet, head of Mucem. The object brings us back to reality, we can not tell anything against him. AT"

"Every word burns"

But such objects capable of consensus are rare. As much as, as Benjamin Stora points out, " the colonial visual history is uneven, the Algerians did not produce as many images as the colonists AT". The Tourcoing exhibition featured only one Algerian photographer, the pioneer Mohamed Kouaci. The museum had, however, issued a call for testimonials to trace images held by Algerian families who had been living in the North for a long time, for the purposes of a documentary broadcast during the summer. € ™ exposure. Only fifteen people were ready to play.

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AT" It was not obvious to establish a bond of trust, to make them talk outside the family circle ", Remembers Françoise Cohen. Wounds are everywhere still alive. Algerian immigrants, blackfeet, chibanis, harkis, all have a feeling of betrayal and abandonment. Also the writing of the cartels hanging in the exhibitions dedicated to Algeria is always proving perilous. AT" Every word burnsadmits Florence Hudowicz. Always have a head in mind justness and justice, a overhanging view so that the texts are read by everyone and that no one rears, while avoiding overplay the repair. AT"

The end of denial about Algeria in French museums
Photograph dated November 10, 1954 taken in the streets of Oran during the festival of Mouloud, which celebrates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. AFP

Nor is it easy to mobilize Algerian historians for bilateral projects. AT" We wanted to rely on Algerian historians in 2012, but it was complicated for political reasons ", Says Christophe Bertrand. The "Made in Algeria" exhibition has also not been taken up in Algeria. Despite the slow work of memory on both sides, the accounts are not sold. For Benjamin Stora, " We must continue the work, knowing that we will not settle this complicated story with a single big exhibition, but by a multitude of events. AT"

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