Text(ile) and Photo(graph)

This grid-like assemblage of images combines the art of handmade textiles with photography. While some of the images here are photographs of actual textile objects, others depict supporters of Algerian Independence holding up their hand sewn Algerian flags. The symbol of the Algerian flag is unique to the struggle for liberation. Prior to Independence from France, it was a flag without a nation. FLN combatants made their own insignias and badges out of scrap materials, and both militants and Algerians supporting the resistance created flags with various shades of red, green, and white recycled fabric. During and at the end of the war, the French army took these cherished anti-colonial objects from their original owners and brought them to France. While photographs of the flag being used for protest and propaganda are widely and internationally available,  seized ‘war trophies’ are still presently housed in the archives of the French Army.

 

Metal Badge of the FLN, metal, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.
Metal Badge of the FLN, metal, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.

This metal badge seized by the French Army in 1962 belonged to a member of the FLN. In some instances the French Army would organize a group of 'harkis' (native Muslim Algerians who served as auxiliaries in the French Army during the war) to disguise themselves as pseudo-FLN fighters with seized FLN clothing, badges (similar to this one) and weapons, in an attempt to fool and betray them by steering them towards capture.

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Moussibilate (far right) and her family in Algeria, before 1962, source: unknown.
Moussibilate (far right) and her family in Algeria, before 1962, source: unknown.

The moussibilate are women combatants, mainly peasants engaged in domestic support for FLN/ALN units. They are normally wives and mothers of resistance fighters who are involved in armed conflict. They take on many tasks within the household to support the anti-colonial resistance: e.g. nurses, cooks, seamstresses, propagandists, and sending supplies (arms and food, but also letters and mail for combatants).

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Insignia of the FLN (Military Badge), n.d., textile, n.d., 2019.7.2, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.
Insignia of the FLN (Military Badge), n.d., textile, n.d., 2019.7.2, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.

This insignia badge, likely made of recycled burlap and other found materials, proudly exhibits the red and green colors of anti-colonial resistance in Algeria pre-Independence. Like the other objects shown here, this badge was seized by the French Army and is stored in their archives, thereby erasing the identity of its original owner.

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Independence Day in La Folie, 1962, Bibliothèque de documentation international contemporaine.
Independence Day in La Folie, 1962, Bibliothèque de documentation international contemporaine.

Algerian expatriates living in France celebrate their homeland's Independence in 1962. In previous years, they often got caught between the fronts of Algerian nationalists and were subjected to repression by the French police.

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FLN Banner, Cotton fabric, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.
FLN Banner, Cotton fabric, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.

The Algerian flag is a symbol unique to Independence and was designed by the people of Algeria before they had a nation to call their own. The creation of these pre-Independence flags was done by hand with sewing machines or other means. When the French Army defeated, killed, or arrested legions of FLN fighters, they would take their homemade supplies as war trophies to vindicate their positions of power as violent colonialists.

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©Makhlouf, Nadja. Fatima Kade: Steward of Weapons to the Maquis, before 1962.
©Makhlouf, Nadja. Fatima Kade: Steward of Weapons to the Maquis, before 1962.

Fatima Kade stands guard in the Kabyle Mountains, helping transfer weapons and other supplies for the FLN. After the death of her husband in the war, she swears to avenge him and continue the fight for Independence.

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FLN Flag, Embroidery and lace, Constantine (wilaya), 1961, 16-513186, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.
FLN Flag, Embroidery and lace, Constantine (wilaya), 1961, 16-513186, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.

The striking green-dyed and white lace made from scraps of women's clothing and red embroidery of this flag shows the artistry and creative forces that sought liberation in the midst of the conflict. Similar to the other seized objects featured here, this flag belongs to Algeria but lives in French custody. The original artist is unknown but likely a resident of Constantine where it was captured on January 8, 1961 by a French commander named Jacques Charbonneau.

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©Makhlouf, Nadja. Zohra Slimi: Algerian Flag Weaver, before 1962.
©Makhlouf, Nadja. Zohra Slimi: Algerian Flag Weaver, before 1962.

Pre-Independence, the Algerian flag represented the colors of a nation not yet won. Although pro-French Algeria media tried to paint the FLN as a 'terrorist organization', there were also domestic duties like flag sewing and weaving. Zohra makes dozens of small flags here to be passed all over Algeria and raised by anyone who supports the realization of liberation and Independence.

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FLN Flag, n.d., textile, n.d., 2013.23.1, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.
FLN Flag, n.d., textile, n.d., 2013.23.1, Musée de l’Armée, Paris.

The symbolic crescent moon and star in the Algerian flag are featured in all four corners and the center of this homemade FLN flag, as well as signatories by FLN combatants. Iconography of the crescent moon can be traced back to Phoenician Goddess Tanit during the Carthaginian empire. The crescent and star together can also be traced back to the Mughal and Ottoman eras, and came known to be a symbol for modern Muslim communities by the mid-20th century.

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Street Demonstration, Nov. 6, 1961, Agence Dalmas (Paris), International Magazine Service (Sweden).
Street Demonstration, Nov. 6, 1961, Agence Dalmas (Paris), International Magazine Service (Sweden).

The woman in the foreground grips a handmade flag of textile fabric in her hands as she protests for Algerian Independence. This is a press photograph that was circulated through Swedish and French media. The original copy was purchased by the owner from IMS Vintage Photos.

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Gerd Almgren (Swedish, 1925-2008) with Algerian flag before 1962, source: Wikimedia Commons.
Gerd Almgren (Swedish, 1925-2008) with Algerian flag before 1962, source: Wikimedia Commons.

Gerd Josefine Louise Almgren a.k.a. "Madame Courage" was a Swedish journalist and photographer who documented the Algerian War of Independence. She did several reports from Paris on the war for Aktuellt (a Swedish news program), and later moved to Algero-Tunisian in 1961 to document the conflict up close. In 1962, she was forced to leave Aktuellt because she was told she could not participate in a May Day parade in support of Independence as it was seen as too political.

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Celebrating Independence, Algeria,  June 29, 1962, source: Todd Shepard.
Celebrating Independence, Algeria, June 29, 1962, source: Todd Shepard.

Celebrations of Independence occurred all over Algeria as the referendum approached. Adults, children, comrades, and families flooded the streets with homemade flags held up at victorious heights above their heads.

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Click on the thumbnail images to expand each of the photographs and learn more about the origins of the objects represented. Recommended for desktop viewing.