‘Performing Colonial Toxicity’ curated by Samia Henni at The Mosaic Rooms

The Mosaic Rooms presents ‘Performing Colonial Toxicity,’ an in-depth exhibition shedding light on France’s covert nuclear program in Algeria during and after the Algerian Revolution (1954-62). Curated by architectural historian Samia Henni, this project unfolds through immersive audio-visual installations comprising maps, photographs, film stills, documents, and archival testimonies.

Photographs by Bruno Barrillot of France’s nuclear sites in Reggane and In Ekker in the Algerian Sahara, taken during a trip with filmmaker Larbi Benchiha and his team in November 2007. Courtesy Observatoire des armements, Lyon, France.

From 1960 to 1966, the French colonial regime executed four atmospheric atomic bombs, thirteen underground nuclear blasts, and various other nuclear experiments in the Algerian Sahara. This clandestine nuclear weapons initiative resulted in the contamination of the Sahara and the dispersal of radioactive fallout across Algeria, North, Central, and West Africa, and the Mediterranean, including Southern Europe. The lasting consequences include irreversible contamination of living organisms, cells, particles, and the natural and built environments. Despite over fifty years passing, the archives of the French nuclear program remain inaccessible, leaving historical details and ongoing impacts largely obscure.

Installation photo of the exhibition Performing Colonial Toxicity (2023) by Samoa Henni at Framer Framed in collaboration with If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want o Be Part Of Your Revolution, Amsterdam. Photo Maarten Nauw.

“Performing Colonial Toxicity” showcases a range of materials sourced from available, offered, contraband, and leaked sources in an immersive multimedia installation. Henni’s research delves into oral histories and investigative reporting, bearing witness to the suppressed narrative of French colonial violence and its enduring repercussions in Algeria. By presenting undisclosed information through various mediums, the exhibition encourages viewers to contemplate the gaps and absences in colonial histories, evoking a sense of visceral, psychic, and environmental trauma resulting from France’s experimental bomb detonations in the Sahara.

This exhibition stems from a broader research initiative, including the publication “Colonial Toxicity: Rehearsing French Nuclear Architecture and Landscape in the Sahara” and an open-access digital database titled “The Testimony Translation Project.” Through different methods of spatialising and disseminating suppressed information, the project calls for action to open classified archives and decontaminate affected sites, essential steps in uncovering the past, present, and future impacts of colonial toxicity.

Framer Framed Performing Colonial Toxicity exhibition. Photo by Maarten Nauw.

About Samia Henni

Samia Henni, an architectural historian, curator, and educator, explores the histories of built environments through textual and visual analysis. Her work delves into environments shaped by colonisation, forced displacement, nuclear weapons, resource extraction, and warfare. Notable publications include the award-winning book “Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria” (2017, Verlag; 2019, Editions B42), “Colonial Toxicity: Rehearsing French Radioactive Architecture and Landscape in the Sahara” (2024, If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, Framer Framed, edition fink), and edited volumes like “War Zones” (2018, Verlag) and “Deserts Are Not Empty” (2022, Columbia Books of Architecture and the City).

Location: Mosaic Rooms, London.

Date: 21 March – 16 June 2024

Caption featured image: Framer Framed Performing Colonial Toxicity exhibition. Photo by Maarten Nauw.

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