Timeless Algiers: Les Riches Heures by Patrick Altès

Patrick Altès was a Leverhulme Artist in Residence working with the Francophone Africa cluster in 2012/13. Since then, he has been exhibiting works inspired by the residency around the world, including as part of Caravan, an international and interreligious peacebuilding arts non-profit. His work is currently on show at the Musée d’Art Moderne Algérien as part of the 7th edition of the FIAC, the International Festival of Contemporary Art

Patrick Altès explains below the genesis of his new work, Les Riches Heures, selected by the FIAC.


My reaction to the title of the show and what it represents has been to freeze a frame, create a timeless moment stripped of its historical significance as well as to refer to the auroral or a-historic time marking the origin and creation of cultures and civilizations.

FIAC Les Riches Heures

Les Riches Heures

The constant ebb and flow of civilizations around the Mediterranean shores over the millennia has always fascinated me. In this context, the many facets of Algiers, “A huge geological animal that constituted the city and its thousand streets” (Kamel Daoud, Meursault, La contre-enquête), “On a happy shore and under the light of the first morning of the world” (Albert Camus, Le Premier Homme), could only but irresistibly attract me.

In Les Riches Heures, the city is apparently open, candid and exuberant but in fact secret, proud and reserved. Civilizations intersect, intertwine and challenge each other. The Bay of Algiers suggests an inherent sweetness of life while the harbor imposes its intrinsic brutality. The multitudes of photos used in this work are the result of long random walks through to city as well as chance meeting with its inhabitants. They intertwine into a rich tapestry of civilizational contrasts, juxtapositions, interpretations and mirroring reflections, symbolic of the city’s identity.

Intended as a hymn to life and hope, the work is chaotic and fertile, rich and sensual at once. Imaginary drawings of flowers are superimposed on the kaleidoscope of the city. These flowers, adorned with oriental decorative motifs, evoke the fertile ground for change as well as the power of the people, fragile, fleeting and generous. Below the table, on the floor, an accumulation of dead flowers and bouquets refers to the inevitable passage of civilizations and open more personal narratives.

Les Riches Heures, a panoramic representation of the city, is also a personal and memorial representation of Algiers. Furthermore, it explores the notion of the third dimension in a two-dimensional work, which discards perspective and refers to the color theory of Paul Klee. The narrative conveys a talismanic, magical value. It crystallizes a reflection on origins and its relationship with the concept of identity while affirming the eclectic and humanistic value of the work.

STUDY HALF DAY. Re-imagining Ends of Empire, University of Portsmouth

The study of the ends of empires and decolonisation has generally focused on the passage from empire to nation-states. Whether this process was violent or relatively peaceful, it has generally been presented as historically inevitable. This is particularly the case with France’s African empire which is often studied in terms of its attempt and failure to hold on at all costs before ultimately giving up (Algeria) or its ‘successful’ negotiation of a smooth transfer of power to a Westernised African elite (West Africa). This study day aims to expand on these new approaches to studying the ends of empire. 

With the generous support of The Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France (ASMCF), The Society for French Studies (SFS), The Society for the Study of French History (SSFH), the Centre for European and International Studies Research (CEISR) and the School of Languages and Area Studies, University of Portsmouth.


Wednesday March 2, 2016, University of Portsmouth, Park building room 3.23

12:20 – 12:30      Welcome and Introduction by Natalya Vince

12:30 – 1:30        Panel 1: The SSFH panel: Beyond the Franco-African Perspective (Chaired by Natalya Vince) followed by a Q&A

Mark Thurner (University of London): “Decolonizing Decolonisation: On the Indo-Hispanic Origins of the Postcolonial Historical Imagination”

Benoît Trépied (IRIS, CNRS): “Colonies After Empire? Nationalising France’s Overseas Territories in the Pacific (1960s-1970s)”

1:30-1:45              Short Break

1:45-3:30              Panel 2: The ASMCF Panel: African Perspectives on Ending Empires

Ismay Milford (European University Institute, Florence): “‘The unity of Africa means the unity of ourselves’: The Committee of African Organisations and the pursuit of an imagined unity”

Megan Brown (The Graduate Center, City University of New York): “Letters to Brussels: Independent Algeria’s Eurafrican Moment?”

Meike de Goede (Leiden University): Matsouanist Resistance in late Colonial Congo-Brazzaville

With discussion from Andrew W M Smith (UCL), who will also draw comparisons with his research on the ‘messy ends’ of French empire and the role of contingency and improvisation.

3:30-4:00              Tea/Coffee Break

4:00-5:15              Panel 3: The SFS Panel: Alternative European Narratives of Decolonisation

Charlotte Riley (University of Southampton): “‘This is work for the future of mankind’: Development aid and the ‘end’ of the British Empire in Africa.”

Paula Pfoser (Vienna): “Viewing Decolonization from the perspective of a (Post) Colonialism without Colonies”

With discussion from Thomas Jackson (University of Sheffield), who will also draw comparisons with his research on the French ‘end of empire’ and its legal frameworks and debates surrounding these.

5: 15 – 5:30          Conclusion

All welcome
For more information, please contact Kelsey Suggitt (kelsey.suggitt@port.ac.uk)