Zineb Sedira

1963 | Gennevilliers, France
Zineb Sedira — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Sureya Shaheen

— Galerie kamel mennour

French multimedia artist.

Born to Algerian parents who had immigrated to France, Zineb Sedira studied graphic art in France, then moved to London where she attended Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art, among other institutions. A multimedia artist, her interest lies in the expression of intimacy and the personal and biographic from a multicultural perspective. She thus merges everyday images of life in the West with Arab rituals: for example, the video A Scream for Liberation (1995) consists in a single close-up of a woman’s mouth whose cry is suggestive of the yu-yu, the traditional high-pitched ululation among women of the Maghreb and Middle East to express their emotions at birth ceremonies, marriages and funerals, or also used as a warning such as by the resistance during the war in Algeria.

In 1996 the film Autobiographical Patterns shows Sedira’s hand on which she quickly writes her life story in French, Arab and English from her birth to her move to London. This superposition of different texts and scripts becomes the symbol of her multiple identities and cultural plurality. Zineb Sedira is also a photographer; in the triptych Self-Portraits or the Virgin Mary (2000) she shows herself dressed in a white haik (a long traditional Algerian veil) before a white ground. This white-on-white image illuminates Sedira like a representation of the Virgin Mary in her take on the supposed opposition between Christian and Muslim imagery. A turning point in her work occurred in 2002 when she returned to Algeria after more than ten years of absence. This trip, during which she took a series of landscape photographs, led her to engage in a more universal work. The same year she produced Mother Tongue, a set of three videos that are played simultaneously. In the first, Sedira talks in French to her mother, who replies in Arabic; in the second she speaks in French to her daughter, who replies in English; and the third video reveals the impossible communication between the granddaughter and grandmother as they have no language in common. Mother Tongue thus explores inter-generational differences and how integration into a society is detrimental to one’s own genealogy. Taking a similar approach, with the video Mother, Father and I (2003), in which her parents describe the paths of their respective lives, Sedira takes her own history as the basis for her thoughts on the history that links France and Algeria. In 2005 she produced a video documenting travel and encounters called And the Road Goes On… (2005), in which she gives a portrait of contemporary Algeria shortly after the end of its civil war.

She switched to a more cinematic approach in the video Saphir (2006), focusing attention on the image, in contrast to her earlier, more experimental and rudimentary works. The subject of Saphir is the Hotel Es-Safir, opened in Algiers in 1930, and its surrounding area. Filmed by the sea and near the port, the two videos that constitute the installation use the wanderings of a man in the city and the hotel to refer to the departure and migration of Algerians to Europe. In contemplative style – the production is composed mainly of panoramic views and slow-motion photography – Saphir presents itself above all as a universal urban dream. In MiddleSea (2008), the same man wanders around the bridge of an empty ferry that runs between Algiers and Marseille. In this video punctuated by the sounds of the waves and the boat, it is the torpor of the journey and its hopes and promises that are transcribed, as the points of departure and arrival are in the end of little importance. Floating Coffins (2009) can be considered the third work in a triptych whose common thread is the sea. Initially a means of escape, and then a form of frontier, in the last work the sea is portrayed as a prison. The installation employs fourteen screens of different size and eight loudspeakers. The videos were filmed in Nouadhibou in Mauritania, in a reserve for migrating birds that is also a place of transit for Sub-Saharan migrants illegally attempting to reach Europe despite the danger of the crossing to the Canary Islands. The town is also known for its ships’ graveyard.

Priscilia Marques

Translated from French by Timothy Stroud.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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