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Zineb Sedira
Zineb Sedira's impressive body of film and video work, explores diaspora, identity and the movement between borders.

This is achieved through autobiography, story-telling and both non-narrative and conventional strategies. Born in Paris to Algerian parents in 1963, Sedira came to London, where she now lives, in 1986. Her early work builds a complex profile of cultural, geographical and historical legacy using a documentary method and the net of language. Later, she relies on a finely tuned visual aesthetic that foregoes language, evoking the landscape tradition of painting as well as the economic sparseness of poetry and literary genres like the Nouveau Roman.

In most artists' oeuvre there exists one significant moment that signals a change of direction, the immanence of a new style or approach or a psychological shift on which subsequent works hinge. This moment happens in Mother Tongue, a 3-screen installation from 2002.

The film employs three generations, in three stages. It takes place in Paris with the artist and her mother, in London with the artist and her daughter, and in Algeria with the artist's mother and her daughter. Each speaks her mother tongue: the grandmother speaks Arabic, the artist, French and the granddaughter, English. Their roots are audibly distinct, yet visually interconnected. The bare white setting deprives the viewer of cultural signifiers, forcing us to focus on the subjects' faces and their conversation.

The topic is ordinary enough - their experiences of school - but as the viewer moves between the three screens, it becomes clear how fractured and fractious communication can become when the mother tongue isn't passed on. The artist speaks in French to her mother who answers in Arabic and in French to her daughter who answers in English. When the granddaughter addresses the grandmother in English, the conversation comes to a painful halt. That the three languages are not subtitled emphasises 'foreignness' and disorientation in the viewer.

Without understanding Arabic, the viewer experiences the granddaughter's loss and confusion acutely. We witness how the artist's mother safeguards her daughter's early schooldays: 'When did you come to get me? Did I like school?' The piece poignantly conveys how memory is mothered in language. The sadness, with its undercurrent of self-criticism, is also expressed by the poet Sujata Bhatt on moving from India to America, and losing fluency in Gujerati:

'And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.'

Sujata Bhatt, 'Search for my Tongue' from 'Bruinzem, Carcanet, 1988

Mother Tongue, installation view, 2002
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