21 Mar 2024 - 16 Jun 2024

Performing Colonial Toxicity

The Mosaic Rooms


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. This performative archive presents undisclosed information through varied means, inviting viewers to read between the lines and reflect upon gaps and absences in colonial histories. The installation sets forth a lingering feeling of visceral, psychic, and environmental trauma as a result of France’s program of experimental bomb detonations in the Sahara.

The exhibition emerges from a broader research project, which also includes the publication Colonial Toxicity: Rehearsing French Nuclear Architecture and Landscape in the Sahara (If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, Framer Framed and edition fink, 2024) and an open access digital database entitled The Testimony Translation Project Experimenting with different methods of spatialising and circulating suppressed information, the project’s three-part structure constitutes a powerful call to action to open the still-classified archives and to clean/decontaminate the sites: both crucial steps for exposing the pasts, presents and futures of colonial toxicity.

Performing Colonial Toxicity moves to The Mosaic Rooms from Framer Framed, as part of our work to platform interdisciplinary artistic practices and highlight colonial histories lived impacts.

Press release from The Mosaic Rooms

Image: Samia Henni. Performing Colonial Toxicity. 2023. Photography by Maarten Nauw. Image courtesy of Framer Framed and The Mosaic Rooms