The Age of Rivesaltes
I am writing about a theme that nobody likes.
Some themes are liked by nobody.
The Camp Joffre de Rivesaltes, commonly known as Camp de Rivesaltes, is a french military camp which was used between 1939 and 2007 as military base and as concentration or civilian internment camp. Rivesaltes is located just north of Perpignan, in southeastern France, close to the border with Spain.
The Camp of Rivesaltes has held refugees fleeing the Franco dictatorship after the end of Spanish the civil war; it has held Jews and other victims of the Vichy regime. During the post-war period, it also held Russian, Italian and German prisoners of war. After that it was for a time used to house and train North Africans to help with the rebuilding of France. During the Algerian war it served as a prison, as a military training camp, as a transit camp for North Africans (1962), and successively up until 1977 as a rehabilitation camp for a large Harki community fleeing post-war Algeria; around 20 000 people passed through the camp from 1962 to 1964. Between 1984 and 2004 it became one of the largest administrative detention centers for illegal immigrants in France, a lot of them Spanish.
The camp now stands in ruins. At the end of 2007 the decision was made to convert it into a memorial museum, the construction of which is still ongoing.
I learned of the existence of the Camp Joffre de Rivesaltes in June 2012, while visiting the Exile Museum in the border town of La Jonquera. I was shocked by its long and very recent history, spanning a large part of the 20th century, bearing witness and testament to the most painful side of Europe’s modern history. I was touched, at a human level, and felt directly involved, as a European citizen, as an adopted Catalan (I have lived in Catalunya for over 10 years), and as a contemporary exile.
I started to investigate the history of Rivesaltes and reading the testimonies of those who had had the misfortune of living there.
In April 2013 I visited the camp for the first time.
This project is born from the rubbles of the camp, in its day both executioner and witness to human grief, and now, through its ruins, physical testament to the horror of Nazi deportations and to the tragedy of the exile of thousands of human beings.
Rivesaltes is an investigation around the drama of exile and human displacement. It is a reflection on the loss of identity, on the annihilation of the human being and of his/her moral and social values.
My work addresses the universality of individual experience, beyond any notion of border, nationality or epoch: the camp’s ruins represent the past connecting with the present and with the European Union’s current immigration policy. The memory of Rivesaltes is the reality of today’s immigration detention centers, where thousands of lives, thousands of refugees, thousands of personal dramas are held.
This project received a grant in 2013 from the La Escocesa Visual Art Factory in Barcelona and is still ongoing.