INTRODUCTION: ART DURING WAR AND THE POTENTIALITIES
OF DECOLONIAL REPRESENTATION
In important ways, this ambition to understand what the art of the French 1950s and
1960s was coincident with corresponds to Terry Smith’s efforts to historicize the notion of
“contemporaneity” that is so fundamental to the study of contemporary art. See Smith,
What Is Contemporary Art? and the collection of essays in Smith, Enwezor, and Condee,
Antinomies of Art and Culture.
Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster (L’Écriture du désastre), passim.
This is all the more surprising given the persistent efforts within the field to understand
the origins of modern aesthetic practices in relation to these same colonial and imperial
occupations, especially as they issued from France, and especially in relation to the sub-
genre of Orientalist painting. Here, Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby’s Extremities is exemplary
for its analysis of early nineteenth- century French painting in relation to imperial con-
quest and slavery.
The extensive historical literature about the war that was fought to achieve Algerian
sovereignty has made a great deal of the fact that the war was “sans nom” (nameless),
although it is perhaps more accurate to suggest it had too many names— events, operation,
pacification, rebellion, revolution, insurgency— even if the effect is precisely the same.
Regardless of the state’s reluctance to name the war as such, it was still often referred to
in precisely that way in much of the popular discourse of the time. It was not until 10
June 1999 that the French National Assembly voted to name this war la guerre d’Algérie.
In Algeria, it is called both La guerre de libération nationale and La révolution Algérienne,
or Thawra Jazā’iriya in Arabic, terms which both carry their own ideological baggage.
See Blandine Grosjean, “La France reconnaît qu’elle a fait la ‘guerre’ en Algérie. L’assem-
blée vote aujourd’hui un texte qui enterre le terme official d’ ‘opérations de maintien de
l’ordre,’” Libération, 10 June 1999, www.liberation.fr. I have chosen to use the term “Alge-
rian War of Independence” throughout this book for the sake of consistency and to dis-
tinguish the 1954–1962 war from the subsequent Algerian Civil War. Although it is not
conventional in English- language scholarship, I note that calling it the “Algerian War of
Liberation” would perhaps better reinscribe the Algerians’ agency in both the fight and