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How do we tell the stories of generation independence? A collaborative, participatory project
In this project, we are trying out different ways of doing history. We aim to make approximately eighteen documentaries of around 20 minutes each. Each documentary will prompt artistic responses from two contemporary Algerian artists.
One of the reasons often given for not studying post-independence Algerian history is the absence of an archive. For the moment, the state archives for the post-independence period (that is to say the correspondence, minutes of meetings and so forth for the Ministries of Education, Justice, the Interior, etc) are largely inaccessible, if they have been archived at all. This does not mean that we cannot conduct historical research. Newspaper archives are available and there is a wealth of statistical and government-produced documentation from this period scattered across libraries in Algeria and France, and also key works of political science and sociology published during the 1960s and 1970s. And of course, there is the testimony of people who lived through this period.
This project is based on oral history. This is not a choice by default, because we cannot get into “the archive”. Rather, oral histories provide a particularly effective way to explore how the political is entangled with the personal, accident and design co-exist and the “small story” provides insights into key national and international moments. Interviewees have also shared with us photographs and documents which they have kept from this period – some of these are included in the documentaries. Again, this is a prompt to take a broader view of what “the archive” is: much of the post-independence archive of Algeria is in the cellars, garages and family photo albums.
Potential interviewees have emerged through a broad network of contacts with Algerian academics, journalists and filmmakers and friends and family. They generously shared with us their time and stories. Some of these interviews were hours long, and the 20-minute documentary is only a slice of a very rich life. We make no claims that this is a representative sample, but tried to choose a wide range of profiles, women and men.
The people featured here are telling their stories, giving their interpretations. This project is not about the search for “the” truth, but about seeking to generate a discussion. These artistic responses are a reflection of our desire to multiply perspectives – both artists have watched exactly the same documentaries, but they have interpreted them differently. The website will always be a work-in-progress, because this is a participatory project.