BY Wilson Tarbox in EU Reviews | 20 SEP 22
Featured in
Issue 232

Ângela Ferreira’s Radio of Resistance

At FRAC, Marseille, the artist probes the hidden colonial legacies of the Algerian War

BY Wilson Tarbox in EU Reviews | 20 SEP 22

‘Friends, comrades, this is Rádio Voz da Liberdade, on behalf of the Patriotic Front for National Liberation …’ The voice of Portuguese communist broadcaster Stella Piteira Santos echoes up from the lower level of the Regional Contemporary Art Fund (FRAC) in Marseille. The space is currently host to Ângela Ferreira’s ‘Rádio Voz da Liberdade’, the Portuguese artist’s homage to the guerrilla radio station broadcast in Algeria from 1962 to 1974 by exiled Portuguese dissidents of António de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship.

Ângela Ferreira, La Voix de l’Algérie Libre et Combattante (tour et ondes), 2022, aluminium, MDF, wood veneer, metal mesh, iron, steel, copper, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist; Photo: Laurent Lecat 

Beyond its highly political historical content, the exhibition is a masterclass in left-wing aesthetics: two sculptures – Rádio Voz da Liberdade (Voice of Liberty Radio, 2022) and La Voix de l’Algérie Libre et Combattante (tour et ondes) (The Voice of Free and Fighting Algeria, Tower and Waves, 2022) – represent a condenser microphone and a radio tower that look as if they have sprung into three dimensions from a constructivist poster. The artist took her inspiration from a pair of Algerian postage stamps, framed on an adjacent wall. Beside these stamps are studies for the sculptures, done in graphite on paper with the precision of architectural drawings. Declassified archival documents from Salazar’s brutal secret police also hang on this wall.

Just opposite, three large black and white murals, clearly painted from photographs, depict street graffiti and two operators surrounded by towering, dial-covered equipment. These murals recall the photorealistic paintings of Denuncia – a 1970s Argentinian group that adopted this aesthetic, between the realism of photography and the fiction of painting, to create images alluding to both the Argentine military dictatorship’s torture of political dissidents and their subsequent denial of these acts. The allusion to Denuncia is also an oblique nod to the French military’s own use of torture during the Algerian War (1954–62).

Ângela Ferreira, Opérateurs radio à Radio Algérie II, 2022, mural painting. Courtesy: the artist; Photo: Laurent Lecat 

A third sculptural installation, Radio Fanon (2022), resembles an oversized, pale-green transistor radio with a television screen that plays the film Patrouille à l’Est (The Eastern Patrol, 1971) by Amar Laskri. While the integration of this movie serves as a reminder of the varied political uses of film, the titular mention of the Martiniquan psychologist Frantz Fanon allows Ferreira to further probe the hidden history of the Algerian War. As a psychiatrist employed by the French army during the Algerian War, Fanon was also a secret agent for the Algerian National Liberation Front. His insightful writing on the psychological effects of colonial racism on both the colonized and the colonizers, as in his famous book The Wretched of the Earth (1961), has made him a key reference in the bibliographies of post-colonial studies. Yet, despite writing in French, Fanon’s reception has been greatest outside of France, notably in English, Spanish and Portuguese translation.

Ângela Ferreira, Colonialismo vence-se, 2022, mural painting, and Radio Fanon, 2022, MDF, PVC, plexiglas, monitor, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist; Photo: Laurent Lecat 

This odd fact speaks to one of the reasons that ‘Rádio Voz da Liberdade’ is such a rare and captivating anomaly for a French art museum. Sixty years after France’s richest colony tore back its independence, the Algerian War is still a sensitive subject in French public discourse. Marseille is France’s second-biggest city, with a large diasporic Algerian population. One might wonder why it took a Portuguese artist to tackle this thorny topic. However, experience has shown that such subjects often only see the light of day in France when filtered through the lens of an outsider. Yet, Ferreira has made the most of this opportunity to deliver a beautiful and biting critique of the colonial legacies of both France and Portugal. The fact that this exhibition takes place in one of several regional institutions conceived by France’s socialist government in the 1980s also serves as a reminder of the utility of public cultural spaces to tell the forgotten stories of human struggle.

Ângela Ferreira’s ‘Rádio Voz da Liberdade’ is on view at FRAC – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Marseille, until 22 January 2023.

Main image: ‘Rádio Voz da Liberdade’, 2022, exhibition view, FRAC – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Marseille. Courtesy: the artist; Photo: Laurent Lecat 

Wilson is an art historian, journalist and critic based in Paris.