Antonio Recalcati, Enrico Baj, Erró, Gianni Dova, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Roberto Crippa
Antonio Recalcati lives and works in Milan, IT / Enrico Baj † / Erró lives and works in Paris, FR / Gianni Dova † / Jean-Jacques Lebel lives and works in Paris, FR / Roberto Crippa †
At the origin of the Grand tableau antifasciste collectif [Large collective antifascist painting, 1960] is a historical crime of unspeakable horror: the torture and rape of Djamila Boupacha, an Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) activist wrongly accused of a bomb attack in Algiers in 1960.
The artist Jean-Jacques Lebel, an active anticolonialist, initiated this collective endeavor. On the left-hand side of the canvas, he painted a transcultural totem pole, placing at its top the scarcely legible effigy and silhouette of Boupacha. The Milanese painter Enrico Baj quickly rendered two warrior figures; Lebel pasted on a reproduction of a Madonna and Child and painted the words “la morale” [morality] and “la patrie” [fatherland]. He then added two Italian newspaper clippings with the head of Cardinal Ottaviani, defender of the “civilizing” mission of colonialism in the Maghreb; Baj painted a small round head on the right. Roberto Crippa—who hosted the action in his studio—intervened with a black painted swastika suspended above the warriors, referencing the use of Gestapo-like torture methods by French authorities during and after the Battle of Algiers (1957). The irruption of the swastika here is an indictment of the racist ideology common to both Nazism and colonialism.
Later, Lebel affixed a copy of the Manifeste des 121 – Déclaration sur le droit à l’insoumission dans la guerre d’Algérie [Manifesto of the 121: Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War]. Then Gianni Dova painted large white anthropomorphic shapes, while Antonio Recalcati added body prints (on a green background). Lebel inscribed the key words “Setif” and “Constantine”—the sites of a 1945 mass massacre and the beginning of the colonization of Algeria in 1830. The last to intervene, on the eve of the opening of the Anti-Procès 3 exhibition at the Galleria Brera in Milan in June 1961, was the Icelandic artist Erró, who painted his characteristic masses of screaming heads. Two weeks after the opening, the carabinieri, armed with a sequestration order signed by the public prosecutor Luigi Costanza, tore the tableau from its frame, folded it like an enormous handkerchief, and carried it off. It was only returned to the artists twenty-seven years later, badly damaged. Since then, it has been continually exhibited, for example, in Paris, Hamburg, Vienna, Madrid, and, most significantly, at the Museum of Modern Art of Algiers in 2008.
Lost, Loose and Loved: Foreign Artists in Paris 1944–1968, 2018, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (ES)
Présenter l’irreprésentable, 2014, Musée d’arts de Nantes, Nantes (FR)
Les désastres de la guerre. 1800–2014, 2014, Musée du Louvre-Lens, Lens (FR)
Les Artistes internationaux et la révolution algérienne, 2008, Salle Ibn Khaldoun, Algiers (DZ)
Face à l’Histoire 1933–1996, 1996, Le centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, Paris (FR)
La France en guerre d’Algérie, 1992, L’Hôtel des Invalides, Paris (FR)
Anti-Procès III, 1961, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (IT)