21 March: Looking further at the work of Zineb Sedira

The final part of my Mixed Media assignment now involves writing a 1,000 word essay that relates to the project and research I have conducted so far.  Apart from the challenge of restricting the essay to a small number of words, I have decided to look and concentrate in more detail at the work of the two photographers who have also worked in other mediums such as film namely, Zineb Sedira and Zarina Bhimji.  This will help to hone in on the important aspects of their work and to highlight any similarities or differences in their approach to their work. The search for a sense of national identity is apparent  in the work of both Sedira and Bhimji as both their respective parents left their homelands in periods of political conflict, and both return to aspects that are important to them in their work.


She was born in Paris to Algerian parents but now lives in London. Her work covers aspects as diverse as photography, film, installations and  object making.  Her website, http://www.zinebsedira.com states that she has gradually changed her focus of interest to “more universal ideas of mobility, memory and transmission … (and) also addresses environmental and geographical issues, negotiating between both past and future.”

An image from her early work (2002) Mother Tongue, which was a three screen installation is shown below.

4844201571_3a86759b22The film shows three generations of women, each speaking her own mother tongue.  Luxonline  (http://www.luxonline.org.uk/artists/zineb_sedira/essay(1).html) states that “their roots are audibly distinct, yet visually interconnected … (and demonstrates) how fractured and fractious communication can become when the mother tongue isn’t passed on.”   Her earlier film Don’t Do To Her What You Did To Me (1998-2001) reflects the loss that can be experienced when generations of families are no longer able to communicate, thus instigating isolation and discomfort.  Sedira however merely acts as a spectator and an interpreter, and provides no intervention in the events.  She is leaving the spectator to reach his or her own conclusions.

Sedira first visited Algeria 15 years after the end of the Civil War (1991-2002) and her parents later returned to live there.  So she in turn has explored the culture and themes of provenance, separation and return through her work.

Her film And the Road Goes On (2005) was recorded at speed from a moving car moving along a coast road in Algeria,  where objects almost appear as a blur.  The colours of the landscape provide a strong visual effect almost like a painting, and it is only when a person or another vehicle is passed that the film slows, almost concentrating on the human presence for a brief period.


Her more recent work show her strong interest in the sea as a metaphor for estrangement and isolation, her parents having to leave their homeland and in turn her investigations into her own national and cultural identity through her work.

Her film Middle Sea (2008) depicts a solitary male figure who wanders the decks of the ship almost aimlessly.  She has used audio to suggest rather than state, with noises of the engine, a radio trying to tune into a frequency and sounds of a group of people who are not seen.  This emphasises the solitary nature of the figure and the almost precariousness of his situation.  This links with the anxiety which must have been felt by her parents when they first left Algeria.

sedira_middlesea_2008_1Her more recent work has also included references to the sea, such as her film Floating Coffins (2009) which was filmed in Mauritania where the world’s shipping is beached and broken up, representing a hazard to shipping and a threat to the ecology of the area.  It also links with the area’s port of Nouashibou where African migrants left for Europe.  The work was shown on an installation of 14 screens and Sedira states that “Floating Coffins is a space where life, death, loss, escape, abandoned and shipwrecked journeys meet.  It’s both a toxic graveyard and a source for survival and hope.”  (http://www.iniva.org/2009/zineb_sedira)

ZS still 2009 Floating Coffins

Her work Lighthouse in the Sea of Time (2011) comprises a series of videos and photographic evidence of her visits to two Algerian lighthouses, depicts her interest in oral history, and the importance of memory and story telling.  She describes the lighthouses as witnesses to past history and the fact of their existence as preserving their stories.   It is depicted as a four-channel video presentation with photographs showing the lighthouse keepers’ logbook and museum views of artefacts.


It is proposed to consider further her recent work Guiding Light (2013) which uses a mixture of video, literary references and artifacts, for the written essay .


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