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Performing Colonial Toxicity | Samia Henni



The Mosaic Rooms presents Performing Colonial Toxicity, an archival survey exhibition documenting France’s secret nuclear programme in Algeria during and after the Algerian Revolution (1954-62). This expansive research project, put together by architectural historian and exhibition maker Samia Henni, unfolds across a series of audio-visual assemblages — each consisting of maps, photographs, film, stills, documents and archival testimonies.

Between 1960 and 1966, the French colonial regime detonated four atmospheric atomic bombs, thirteen underground nuclear bombs and conducted other nuclear experiments in the Algerian Sahara, whose natural resources were being extracted in the process. This secret nuclear weapons programme resulted in the toxification of the Sahara, and spread radioactive fallout across Algeria, North, Central and West Africa, and the Mediterranean (including Southern Europe), causing irreversible and still ongoing contaminations of living bodies, cells and particles, as well as in the natural and built environments. The archives of the French nuclear programme remain closed over fifty years later, historical details and continuing impacts remain largely unknown.

Performing Colonial Toxicity presents available, offered, contraband and leaked materials from these archives in an immersive multimedia installation. Henni’s research straddles between oral histories and investigative reportage, bearing witness to the suppressed history of French colonial violence and its ongoing impacts in Algeria.

Samia Henni is an architectural historian, exhibition maker and educator. Working through textual and visual strategies, her practice interrogates histories of the built, destroyed and imagined environment – those produced by processes and mechanisms of colonisation, forced displacement, nuclear weapons, resource extraction and warfare.

The exhibition is a co-production If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution and Framer Framed, which was realised within the frame of Henni’s Performing Colonial Toxicity, a two-year research project commissioned for the If I Can’t Dance Edition IX – Bodies and Technologies (2022-23) biennial programme and curated by If I Can’t Dance programme curator Megan Hoetger. The project is supported by Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Special thanks to the Observatoire des armements, Centre de documentation et de recherche sur la paix et les conflits; the Établissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la Défense (ECPAD); and to filmmakers Élisabeth Leuvrey and Larbi Benchiha with producer Farid Rezkallah for use of images and film excerpts in the exhibition; as well as to Prof. Dr. Roxanne Panchasi, Simon Fraser University for her support for the Tamasheq-to-French translation of Algerian testimonies.

The exhibition is generously supported by Arts Council England.

With thanks to Gasworks London for their support with AV equipment.

Image: Photograph 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. Design by Hyperkit.

PRESS RELEASE: Performing Colonial Toxicity

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