Zineb Sedira (b. 1963)

Don't Do To Her What Yo Did To Me (2001)

Zineb Sedira was born in Paris in 1963. She received a BA from Central Saint Martins School of Art, London, in 1995, an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in 1997, and subsequently studied photography at the Royal College of Art, London. Sedira’s multiple identities as a French-born Algerian living in England inform her serene, often haunting photographs and video installations, which consider questions of memory, displacement, and the transmission of history.

In her early works, Sedira explores the traditional gender roles of Arab women, particularly as passed from mother to daughter. The three-channel video Mother Tongue (2002) presents members of three generations discussing childhood in their native languages—the artist in French, her mother in Arabic, and her daughter in English—until communication breaks down between daughter and grandmother, who have no language in common. When Sedira returned to Algeria in the early 2000s, she shifted her lens away from herself and toward a more general landscape of displacement. Since the video project Saphir (2006), her visual repertoire has frequently included images of the sea, harbors, and cargo ships, the means by which people and things drift from place to place.

Sedira’s fourteen-screen video installation Floating Coffins (2009) (and its photographic complement, The Death of a Journey) capture the rusted ships and abandoned tankers that crowd the Mauritanian coast. Just as the sea becomes a metaphorical passageway in the artist’s work, the oral histories of Algerians in times of war have enabled her to evoke present-day situations in other countries. In Gardiennes d’images (2010), a work first presented at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Safia Kouaci, the widow of Algerian photographer Mohammed Kouci, talks about her husband’s photographs and the Algerian Revolution. Sedira’s split-screen juxtaposition of black-and-white prints with a saturated close-up of Kouaci blends the documentary nature of the archive with memories of oral history, complicating the notion of who should be the guardians of such images.