From a Nation Torn

Decolonizing Art and Representation in France, 1945-1962

From a Nation Torn


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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 84 illustrations (inclu. 21 in color) Published: February 2014

Author: Feldman, Hannah

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, European Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

From a Nation Torn provides a powerful critique of art history's understanding of French modernism and the historical circumstances that shaped its production and reception. Within art history, the aesthetic practices and theories that emerged in France from the late 1940s into the 1960s are demarcated as postwar. Yet it was during these very decades that France fought a protracted series of wars to maintain its far-flung colonial empire. Given that French modernism was created during, rather than after, war, Hannah Feldman argues that its interpretation must incorporate the tumultuous "decades of decolonization"and their profound influence on visual and public culture. Focusing on the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962) and the historical continuities it presented with the experience of the Second World War, Feldman highlights decolonization's formative effects on art and related theories of representation, both political and aesthetic. Ultimately, From a Nation Torn constitutes a profound exploration of how certain populations and events are rendered invisible and their omission naturalized within histories of modernity.


"Feldman’s book (a first book!) is perhaps one of the strongest studies on French modernism in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s that I have ever read, and one that, definitely, will change our thinking on arts, culture, nation, and postcolonialism in the postwar period. It does not only achieve a real paradigm shift in our long standing vision of that kind of modernism (actually the leap of France into the world of mass consumption), it also engages in a highly challenging debate with some major thinkers in the field of visual culture." — Jan Baetens, Leonardo Reviews

“One of the most innovative aspects of Feldman’s approach lies in the fact that many of the cultural artefacts examined in From a Nation Torn have, until this point, been defined in largely ahistorical and apolitical terms, despite making an often explicit reference to decolonization. . . . [T]his is an undeniably excellent cultural analysis of an often overlooked period in France’s national history.” — Mani Sharpe, Modern and Contemporary France

“This is a history that traces why we remain unable to see the very parameters that have delimited the sphere of the visual to bracket out the experience, even the existence, of specific subaltern populations. Feldman makes an unassailable case for the urgency of this project. . . . Her book is a dense and powerful intervention into how we are to comprehend art in this period in France and the contours of modernism more generally, offering an invaluable resource for our efforts to understand the function of the image and to write about it within our present ‘globalized’ economy and endless ‘war on terror.’” — Megan R. Luke, Art Bulletin

"Feldman’s work represents a powerful synthesis of historical and theoretical methodologies that truly exemplifies responsible interdisciplinary scholarship. Drawing from fields of social history, philosophy, spatial and postcolonial theories, as well as from art history, Feldman offers a promising glimpse at future studies of European modernism, which will necessarily engage such a spectrum in order to grapple with similar histories of overlooked alterities." — Alessandra Amin, H-AMCA, H-Net Reviews

"From a Nation Torn is extraordinarily rich in compelling observations.... Feldman stakes her territory and brilliantly succeeds in it.... From a Nation Torn will be indispensable reading for all scholars who wish to contribute to an adequate history of the era formerly known as postwar." — Daniel Spaulding, Art Journal

“Scholars interested in visual culture generally and modernism, colonial resistance, and subaltern art production in particular will benefit greatly from a close reading of From a Nation Torn. As scholars take note of the stakes masterfully outlined by Hannah Feldman and bring them out of France and into former colonies, including Algeria, hopefully the nuance and theoretical rigor applied in this book will also find application in future acts of decolonial looking.” — Michelle Huntingford Craig, African Arts

“What Feldman proposes is a decolonized model of looking that remains alert to what might not be immediately visible. This model involves looking past the mechanisms of bourgeois cunning to see certain realities that have been obfuscated. Feldman’s work is prescriptive, which is often seen as contradictory to historical practice, but hers is a strong challenge to the very sources of power that historians, too, are keen to condemn.” — Sung Eun Choi, History

“Feldman’s book serves as a lens to correct our myopia regarding this period, allowing us to retrain our eyes to contextualize and analyse contemporaneous visual production and the public that created or participated in it in a more comprehensive way. For that substantial achievement alone, it deserves to be read widely by scholars of French and francophone studies, as much as by art historians.” — Elizabeth Geary Keohane, French Studies

"Analysing history through images is full of possibility and Feldman has made a major contribution to thinking about how significant visual representations are when looking at the second half of the twentieth century in France." — John Zarobell, French History

"In its dynamic analysis of an imaginative and often unexpected range of media, artists and audiences, From a Nation Torn achieves its aim to ‘decolonize art’ by moving beyond canonical understandings of modernism. Simultaneously, it sheds fascinating light on an understudied aspect of global history." — Claire Wintle, Visual Studies

"This intriguing book is the product of deep and detailed archival research into the artistic, cultural, social, and political situation of the Algerian War, revealing with engaging precision the extreme complexity of its representation in public broadcast media, its profound impact on French intellectual life, the cultural activism it precipitated, not least in conceptions of citizenship and in city planning, and above all its deep resonance within the most significant visual arts ideas and practices of the period, including André Malraux's aesthetics, Isodore Isou's Lettrisme, and the Nouveaux réalistes." — Terry Smith, coeditor of Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity

"Hannah Feldman's book is a masterpiece of historical inquiry that fundamentally restructures our view of French society after 1945, banning the term postwar as a descriptor of that period. France was nothing but at war until 1962, first in Indochina, then in Algeria, and Feldman offers a radically new analysis of the impact those colonial wars had on its culture—from Malraux's musée imaginaire and grandiose plan to renovate Paris to the literary and filmic production of the Lettristes, the activities of the décollagistes, or that of photojournalists braving state censorship. A tour de force." — Yve-Alain Bois, Institute for Advanced Study


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Hannah Feldman is Associate Professor of Art History at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction. Notes on Art During War and the Potentialities of Decolonial Representation 1

I. André Malraux and the Image of the Past as the Future of the Present

1. Fragments; or, The Ends of Photography

2. Façades; or, The Space of Silence

II. Between Resistance and Refusal: The Language of Arts and Its Publics

3. Sonic Youth, Sonic Space: Isidore Isou and the Lettrist Acoustics of Deterritorialization

4. La France Déchirée: The Politics of Representation and the Spaces In-Between

III. Reidentifications: Seeing Citizens Being Seen

5. "The Eye of History": Photojournalism, Protest and the Manifestation of 17 October 1961

6. Looking Past the State of Emergency: A Coda



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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5371-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5356-0
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