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  • on 30.05.2014
  • at 10:00 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

Here Africa/4: Interview with Zineb Sedira 0

For Here Africa, Zineb Sedira will be exhibiting 4 photographs from the series Shipwreck: the Death of a Journey (2008) and The Lovers (2008), which record rusting boats and detritus in a ship graveyard situated in Nouadhibou, Mauritania. For Sedira, these images are portraits where life, death, loss, escape, abandonment and shipwrecked journeys meet. The subject of her images is a contradiction: both a toxic graveyard and a source for survival and hope for young Sub-Saharan Africans to reach Europe. Interview with Zined Sedira by Coline Milliard for Here Africa.

You were born in France and used to go to Algeria on holidays as a child. you stopped going there in the 1990s and went back in the early 2000s, soon buying a flat in Algiers. did you consciously recreate a bond with Algeria?

I have very fond memories of the Algeria that I visited as a child, especially of my grandmother and of her house in the countryside. It was very basic, but I loved it. It felt like home. In France in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a lot of racism against the Algerian community and going on holiday was really refreshing. I didn’t go to Algeria much as a teenager, but I went back in 1988, just before the famous ri- ots, to visit my mother, brothers and sisters who had returned to live there. The country had changed a lot and people were struggling. You could feel a nation ready to explode. Then the civil war started in the early 1990s. I was studying art at the time, and had begun to explore issues around my Alge- rian identity. I really needed to be in Algeria but couldn’t go because it was too dangerous. Much of my work from this period is inspired by memories, and discussions I had with my parents when they came to France.

Then in 2002, the Centre Culturel Français (CCF) in- vited me to do some research in Algiers. I fell in love with the capital — a city I knew very little, as I come from the east of the country, from a region called Aurès — and I started making work about its landscape and architecture. In 2003, it was the ‘Year of Algeria’ in France and I met many interesting Algerian artists mostly based in Algiers. When I returned the following year, many became friends, and I started working with some of them.

In 2010, your exhibition at the Musée Picasso in Vallauris, France, was closed down because you used the word collaborateur (which in French is associated with the people who sided with the Germans during the second World War) to translate Harki (which designates the algerians who sided with the French during the War of independence) in the subtitles of your piece Retelling Histories, my mother told me (2003). When you agreed to replace collaborateur with Harki, the show remained closed and the ministry of culture had to intervene. you’ve never experienced these kinds of problems outside of France…

My work is perceived very differently in France, and there is a real divide between the north and the south of the country. The piece censored in Vallauris caused no prob- lem whatsoever when it was shown in Paris. Like most of the south of France, Vallauris is a town where many pieds noirs (ex-French settlers), veterans from the Algerian War and Harkis live. When I first heard that the Harkis were upset because I had used the word collaborateur, my first reaction was ‘but they have collaborated!’. Then the museum told me that in France, everyone knew the meaning of Harki and so it didn’t need to be translated. I agreed and accepted to re- move collaborateur. Later, I realised that the French veterans and not just the Harkis supported the censorship, as they wanted me to believe. By using collaborateur in my subtitles, I was implying that the French had created collaborators, just like the Germans before them, and they couldn’t accept that. How hypocritical and arrogant was this! Up to now, the French government has had real problems recognising the crimes committed during the Algerian War. In 1962, when the French militaries fled Algeria, General de Gaulle’s government ordered to abandon the Harkis. Predictably, the local population killed many of them.

I have been heard that the French army itself killed some Harkis.

Yes, I know and this is why this censorship is deceitful. They have used the Harkis as a pretext to close my show down. But in the end, this episode was a victory for me. The exhibition re-opened without any problems. So let’s hope there won’t be any more censorship of this sort in the south of France.

You are one of the very few, if not the only, algerian artists dealing with War of independence. how do you explain this silence?

It could be that the Algerians living in Algeria don’t deal with the war because they grew up with it. The officials seem unable to celebrate anything else. For the ones living in France, I really don’t know. Like the French, they seem to be affected by both amnesia and aphasia! Perhaps they have been conditioned not to reflect on it in the way I do. Let’s not forget that I live in the UK and that postcolonial studies are much more important here.

The sea has been a reoccurring element in your work. What interests you in this motif?

I didn’t grow up by the sea, I don’t know it very well, but I’ve grown to love it. There is something very meditative yet intense and scary about it. I like this duality, and you can find it in many of my works. Take my work Saphir for example: there’s a woman, a man, the quiet and the noise, the dirt and the clean. We have all experienced the sea and yet it remains a stranger.

By Coline Milliard
Art writer and editor based in London

The publication of this interview is part of a partnership between Afronline and Art for the World, an NGO associated with the UNDPI (United Nations Department of Public Information). Its mission is to create, through the universal language of art a meaningful and enduring dialogue among diverse peoples, cultures, and world views in order to encourage tolerance and solidarity and to foster education as a human right.

From 6 May to 8 July, Art for The World assembles for the first time in Switzerland a unique collection of contemporary African art and performances including approximately 60 works of more than 26 interesting artists from the African continent. In partnership with the Swiss NGO, Afronline.org will publish opinions and interviews of the personalities involved in the exhibition.

More information on Here Africa


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