Art, French, memory

Layering Over the Wounds of Algeria in Contemporary Pied-Noir Art

Altes, Patrick. Des p’tits Gars biend’chez nous. 2013, Janet Rady Fine Art, London.

Submission by Dr Amy L. Hubbell

Hubbell, Amy. “Layering Over the Wounds of Algeria in Contemporary Pied-Noir Art.” EuropeNow, 1 Mar. 2018,

For the past 20 years, I have been trying to understand the relationship that France’s former citizens of Algeria maintain with their lost homeland. When Algeria was decolonized in 1962 after a lengthy and bitter war, about one million people migrated en masseto France in rushed and sometimes traumatic circumstances from which they have not all recovered.

Guiraud, Nicole. Perpignan janvier2012.

Initially, the memorial work of this community, collectively labeled “Pieds-Noirs”, appeared as nostalgic literature and art with an idealized past in Algeria. As the younger generations of Pieds-Noirs came of age, however, they began expressing the traumatic memories of growing up in a war.

Guiraud, Nicole. Attentat Milk Bar, 2012.

In 2007, I began communicating with Nicole Guiraud who left Algeria in June 1962 with her sister. She was 16 and had been amputated 6 years prior to her departure because of a deadly bombing in an ice cream shop in Algiers. Today, Nicole is a successful artist. She depicts the traumas she experienced in Algeria in her art, often heavily layering memorial materials into her work to represent both visible and hidden wounds.

Guiraud, Nicole. Massacre des innocents (The Massacre of the Innocent), Survivre. Une exposition du Centre de documentation des Français d’Algérie dans le cadre du Pôle muséal. Catalog. Éd. Marie Costa. Colleccio Font Nova, 2012. Print.

In 2010, I met Patrick Altes, an artist also born in Algeria but who left the country when he was still a small child and without tangible memories of his own. Patrick’s art layers images but in ways that deconstruct nostalgic notions of colonial possession of Algeria. By bringing the two artists together in this article, I hope to show the enduring impact that Algeria has on France and the ways in which trauma is inscribed in the country and the artists themselves.


Patrick Altes, ‘Les Riches Heures‘, 2015, Hahnemühle paper on Dibond, 200 x 110cm. Acquired by Musée Public National d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMA).

Keywords: Art; Contemporary Art; Algeria; French; Colonisation; Memory; Trauma; Africa;


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