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Zineb Sedira
How can we access our younger selves, the stem of our identity itself, without access to family storytelling?

'Did you play with friends at school?' the granddaughter asks her grandmother who smiles a little, unable to understand or reply. The granddaughter continues. The grandmother mutters hopelessly in Arabic, then makes a noise somewhere between tutting and a sigh of despair. It is tremendously powerful to watch the disempowerment of the matriarch, the loss of her role as memory-keeper and giver, and the discomfort of them both, isolated and isolating each other.

We are granted rare witness to the nervous embarrassment of a diluting and disintegrating bond, which ends in alienated silence. This silence acts as a resonant metaphor for all the moments, everywhere, in which a bond between generations can't be sustained, due to different values, outlooks, clothes, tastes, lifestyles, religious beliefs, cultures, sexualities, geographies and/or deracination. It is the inter-generational estrangement, so subtly and simply lamented here that makes this piece utterly successful and enduring. Finally, the grandmother looks at the camera, to her daughter, the artist, for help in bridging a gulf she could never have foreseen. She holds up her palm. It is this gesture, outside language, on which Sedira's later works hinge.

By choosing not to intervene, to act as interpreter and lessen the visible discomfort of both her mother and her daughter, the artist seems to signal her desire to act as an interpreter of experience to a wider world through her art. Absent from the frame, Sedira controls the image and the drama within it by her silence as mother and daughter.

This marks a dramatic shift from speaking for the pre-verbal and verbal 'I' in 'Silent Sight', 2000, (and to the mother directly in 'Don't Do to Her What You Did to Me', 1998-2001), to the post-verbal 'we' in later works. While the earlier works are influenced by documentary, the later work invokes landscape painting, still life photography and the aesthetic of Algerian cinema of the 60s and more recent Iranian cinema. This profound shift emerged from Sedira's first visit back to Algeria after 15 years at the end of the Civil War (1991 -2002). While her parents living in France had previously been her anchor and vicarious connection to the homeland, from 2002, Sedira rediscovered her own love for Algeria itself after her parents returned to live there. But her recent films, all shot in Algeria, resonate more strongly if read through the autobiographical knowledge gained from earlier pieces, of the war, exile, separation, diaspora and racism that the family suffered.

Don't Do To Her What You Did To Me, film still, 1998-2001
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