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Mother Tongue

Zineb Sedira

Video triptych

Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue is a three screen video installation, recalling the oral tradition of storytelling, passed along the matrilineal chain as a means of preserving cultural identity from one generation to the next.

The piece explores translation within cultural identity, portraying three generations of women (a mother, a daughter and a grandmother). The participants each speak in their 'mother tongue' of Arabic, French or English. Intimate and moving, the diasporic exchange of these languages attempts to track a broken narrative between the artist's daughter and mother who do not understand their respective spoken languages of English and Arabic.

"Lack of communication is also a way of conveying meaning. My mother never learned French properly because she wanted to show her rejection of the French language and behaviour after the war of independence, even though she and my father lived in France for economic reasons--North African immigrants were used as cheap labour. They experienced a lot of racism, and my parents felt a sense of failure that they had to bring up their children in that culture. They were angry that the French had managed to divide their Arab identity too, setting Algerians against each other by giving French citizenship to Algerian Christians and Jews but not Muslims, so that Arabs and Algerians would turn against each other." S.Z.

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