'Experiences of Exile' Exhibition

The Pathfoot Gallery, University of Stirling.

When Algeria became independent in the summer of 1962, almost 800,000 French settlers fled Algeria for exile in France in the biggest mass migration to Europe since 1945. As Europe witnesses another exodus across the Mediterranean, this exhibition aims to show how settlers who had lived in Algeria for over a century came to terms with living in France, the country to which they belonged but which few had ever visited.​

From 1830, Algeria was violently colonised by the French. As part of this colonisation, rural indigenous populations were routinely displaced and replaced by European communities who were encouraged to settle and farm the land. As well as arriving from France, they came from Spain, Italy, and Malta. Collectively, this settler population has come to be known as pieds-noirs ('black feet'). Over the decades, the settlers left the countryside and were mostly concentrated in the northern, costal centres.

By the time Algeria had won its independence in 1962 after a bloody eight-year long war, many of the European settlers were planning to leave Algeria for metropolitan France. Resettlement, however, was not a straightforward process. French authorities were overwhelmed by the sheer number of rapatriés [repatriates] and the political will to welcome them was fraught with questions of belonging and a desire to move on from the violence of the Algerian war. Who were the pieds-noirs and how could they resettle in France? Were they French? Colonisers? Migrants?

Contemporary resonance

Similar questions have arisen in far-right rhetoric in our own time. The 'Experiences of Exile' exhibition also presents contemporary works of art and photographs which have documented and responded to the European 'Border' or 'Migration Crisis' - referring to a period of increased asylum claims in European countries since 2011, following the war in Syria and other extreme geopolitical crises. Although the two case studies are legally, historically, and politically distinct, both can tell us something about the experience of forced migration, the effects of leaving home against one's will, and what it means to find a new one. The exhibition will be regularly expanded and updated with new works of art over the course of the year.

The ‘Experiences of Exile' exhibition took place at the Pathfoot Gallery in Stirling from 28 September 2018 until 19 September 2019 as part of a two-year Leadership Fellows project entitled ‘Narratives and Representations of the French Settlers of Algeria’, led by Dr Fiona Barclay of the University of Stirling, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Images and period objects are provided with the kind assistance of the Ecomusée du Val de Bièvre, Fresnes.