Issam Larkat

After encountering the powerful texts of psychiatrist Frantz Fanon on the fight against colonial injustice, a series of questions emerged inside Issam Larkat’s mind. Who was Frantz Fanon and how did he become a crucial figure in the liberation of Algeria, as well as the broader movement of decolonialisation? How relevant are his words after seventy years? And, which questions would Fanon have asked in today’s society? 

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was an important figure in the global struggle against colonialism during the 1950s, also known under the adopted Islamic name Omar Ibrahim, and recognised for his publications Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961). Born on the Caribbean island Martinique, under French colonial rule, Fanon educated as a psychiatrist in France. After the Algerian Revolution in 1954, he joined the National Liberation Front and continued to fight for the freedom of many African nations, including Algeria, until his death in 1961.

Inspired by the profound legacy of Fanon’s visionary ideas, Issam Larkat’s series Frantz Fanon, Me and the Questions pays a tribute to his thinking by using a distinct style that combines photographs, archival images and hand-made drawings. Larkat cleverly translates his questions into critical collages that depart from his own experience in Algeria, yet simultaneously speak to the universal struggle against injustice and (neo-)colonialism, connecting the shared identities of Algerian, African and Arab people. 

Frantz Fanon, Me, and The Questions

Issam Larkat

Frantz Fanon, also known as Ibrahim Omar Fanon, was a psychiatrist, and political philosopher from the French colony of Martinique (today a French department).

How does a Black man from Martinique who fought in the French army against the Nazis in World War II, end up feeling Algerian and fighting for this country?

I grew up in a town called Relizane. My grandfather Ahmed Touil (from Mascara) joined the army of liberation as a minor, at seventeen years old (he died when I was five years old) and my other grandfather Mohammed Larkat (from Chlef) joined in his twenties until the country was liberated.

Unable to speak to my grandfathers about our enigmatic history of the war of liberation, I found shelter in reading Frantz Fanon's books. Through his work, I understood the psychology of my grandfathers, being born and raised under colonisation.

Frantz Fanon's life can be divided in three important chapters. At eighteen years old, he joined an allied convoy of the French Army in World War II, and eventually transferred to Béjaïa, Algeria.

After the war, having received the Croix de Guerre, he studied medicine and psychiatry in Lyon and published his first book Black Skin, White Masks (1952).

Destiny sent him back to Algeria, where he was appointed chef de service at the Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital. In 1957, Fanon was expelled from Algeria and moved to Tunis, where he joined the National Liberation Front (FLN), a nationalist political party fighting for Algerian independency, openly.

During his time at the Psychiatric Hospital, Fanon faced the responsibility of treating both the psychological distress of the French soldiers and officers who carried out torture in order to suppress anti-colonial resistance, as well as treating Algerian torture victims.

This dilemma eventually made him side with the Algerians, which led to his resignation in 1956. Shortly after, Fanon was expelled from the country.

Afterwards, he served as Ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government and visited many African towns and cities, such as Cairo, Accra, Conakry and Addis Ababa, to raise awareness and mobilise people across the African continent against colonial rule.

This year, I got invited for a masterclass by one of the biggest photography agencies, in Arles, France. I went through the visa procedure in order to to attend the event, submitted all requested documents legally and by their book.

The letter of rejection came with big insults. It stated that there could be a risk for overstaying and taking part in illegal activities whilst in France.

The letter felt surrealistic. It made my mind repeatedly ask the question: Why can I, my people, and people of my race and region not travel without a visa?

Having grown up in a ghetto in modern Algeria, I couldn’t help but relate to the feeling that you get once you are in any slums or villages around the country.

A lot of time I ask myself: "Can we judge them for their criminal endeavours? Have they been given normal equal chances just like anyone around the world?"

The view on Algeria's future to most Algerians is very pessimistic. A person can't help to think what the future holds for the generations to come.

Is it full of hope or uncertainty?


next: Florian Braakman