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On the Wings of the Gallic Cockerel: Ahmed Benyahia and the Provenance of an Algerian Public Sculpture

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Abstract

The term “statuomania” was coined to reflect the vast number of statues, war memorials, and monuments erected in the newly colonized spaces of French Algeria beginning in 1830. After Algerian independence in 1962, the postcolonial afterlives of monuments inscribe a historical, geopolitical, and affective provenance between Algeria and France. This essay follows the history of the 1972 statue to the Algerian war hero and martyr Youcef Zighoud (1921–1956). Sculpted by artist Ahmed Benyahia for Algeria’s third largest city of Constantine, the statue’s creation, emplacement, disappearance, and reappearance recount post-independent Algeria’s efforts to decolonize public space.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Research for this article was funded by the Fondation IMéRA, Aix-Marseille University, during a fall semester 2019 residency in Marseille, France. I am most grateful for Ahmed Benyahia’s comments, permissions, archival photographs, and participation in this essay. I thank Natalya Vince and Walid Benkhaled for their video, permission to reproduce materials, and readings of this essay. All quotes in English by Ahmed Benyahia are drawn from their subtitled video and numbered according to their online time codes.

  2. 2.

    This single known photo of Youcef Zighout is the public domain in Algeria and the United States at: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zighoud_Youcef#/media/Fichier:Zighout_Youcef.jpg.

  3. 3.

    Archaeologist Naomi Sykes (2012) understands the global spread of the chicken (of which the rooster stands as the adult male) into new societies was more because of cockfighting prowess and less so for meat: “These introduced animals, so different from the native fauna and coming from remote realms, were seemingly imbued with cosmological power. Everywhere the chicken was introduced—Asia, Africa, America and Europe—it was quickly incorporated into magic and ritual practices” (p. 165).

  4. 4.

    One of the most impressive equestrian statues erected in Algiers to the Duc d’Orléans was similarly fabricated from melted-down Ottoman cannons. Labeled “a neat reuse of imperial booty” by Aldrich (2005, p. 170), it was removed to France after Algerian independence and eventually re-sited in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

  5. 5.

    See “Ordonnance of 9 June 1844”: “Ordonnance du Roi qui règle le mode d’administration de la ville de Constantine, et régularise les prohibitions dont sont frappées les transactions immobilières dans cette ville.” Article 1 maps out the urban racial divides: “La ville de Constantine sera divisée en deux quartiers, un quartier indigène et un quartier européen” (Corps du droit francais ou recueil complet des lois, decrets, ordonnances 1847, vol. 8, p. 188). This ordonnance effectively launched the creation of the European city, allowing settlers to move in, and ended the military jurisdiction over Constantine which had hitherto prohibited European settlement. See also Parks (2019, pp. 115–116).

  6. 6.

    All documents for name changes were based on “Ordonnance du 10 juillet 1816” originally requiring ministerial oversight but as of 1920, naming powers were passed on to the prefecture or local city council, thereby accounting for the interwar frenzy of new names.

  7. 7.

    Parenthetically in France, battles over street names related to Algeria continue to beleaguer French municipal authorities faced with public outcries about removing or restoring a difficult heritage commemorating contested people or events in Franco-Algerian history. French streets named for March 19, the date of the Evian Accords that signaled the process toward independence, are contested. For former settlers and their allied populations both the street and the date are signs of mourning, not celebration.

  8. 8.

    According to a nostalgic post by a European settler of Constantine, Joly de Brésillon was an early colonist from the 1850s allotted land for a cotton concession that never materialized: http://les-quatre-elements.over-blog.com/2017/05/le-boulevard-joly-de-bresillon-constantine.html.

  9. 9.

    I thank Amine Kasmi, professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Tlemcen, for this information.

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Slyomovics, S. (2021). On the Wings of the Gallic Cockerel: Ahmed Benyahia and the Provenance of an Algerian Public Sculpture. In: Kim, D.D. (eds) Reframing Postcolonial Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52726-6_3

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