Samia Henni: Toxic Heritage (EN)

Between 1960 and 1966, the French colonial regime detonated four atmospheric atomic bombs, thirteen underground nuclear bombs and conducted other nuclear experiments in the Algerian Sahara, whose natural resources were being extracted in the process.

This secret nuclear weapons programme occurred during and after the Algerian Revolution, or the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62). The resulting toxification of the Sahara spread radioactive fallout across Algeria, North, Central and West Africa, and the Mediterranean (including Southern Europe), causing irreversible and still ongoing contaminations of living bodies, cells and particles, as well as in the natural and built environments. Because the archives of the French nuclear programme remain closed over fifty years later, historical details and continuing impacts remain largely unknown. The lecture discusses the means of exposing this toxic heritage.

Samia Henni is an architectural historian, exhibition maker and educator. Her research has culminated in the award-winning book Architecture of CounterrevolutionThe French Army in Northern Algeria (gta Verlag, 2017, EN; Editions B42, 2019, FR) and Colonial Toxicity: Rehearsing French Radioactive Architecture and Landscape in the Sahara (If I Can’t Dance, edition fink, 2023), as well as in the edited volumes War Zones, gta papers no. 2(gta Verlag, 2018) and Deserts Are Not Empty (Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2022); and in exhibitions including Archives: Secret-Défense? (ifa Gallery/SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, 2021), Housing Pharmacology (Manifesta 13, Marseilles, 2020) and Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria (Zurich, Rotterdam, Berlin, Johannesburg, Paris, Prague, Ithaca, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville, 2017–22). Currently, Henni is an invited Visiting Professor at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich. She has taught at Cornell University, Geneva University of Art and Design, Princeton University, and the University of Zurich.

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