Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 The Battle of Algiers is both an essential piece of political cinema and one of the most important neorealist films ever produced. Its unsparing portrayal of the resistance during the Algerian War, filmed in Algiers’s European quarter and Casbah, was so realistic that some early audiences mistook it for a documentary. In her series of paintings Battle of Algiers, Kate Liebman depicts the interior court of Serkadji Prison, where Ali la Pointe—a resistance leader Pontecorvo took as his main character—witnesses the execution by guillotine of a fellow Algerian. La Pointe is radicalized by the death.
The prison, a real place, was mediated by Pontecorvo’s film, which in turn Liebman uses as the source of these paintings, creating, as she puts it, “a fraught psychological space in which beauty and terror are held in tension.” In one of the paintings, Liebman “places the viewer on the ground, looking up,” an angle that “evokes the feeling of looking and being looked at, of being trapped, of the harsh midday Mediterranean light, of the pressures of history, of the horrors power commits, of heat, of emptiness, of being hidden, of grief.”