Zineb Sedira’s London Exhibit Explores Identity Through Cinema

When you think of England, what are the first few things that come to mind? Is it Fish and Chips? Or it could be the Royal Family; it could even be those bright red phone boxes that can be seen on virtually every corner but have been out of service for decades. Although all of these are correct answers, I suggest another option: art. You may be thinking that this is not a groundbreaking concept, art in one of the biggest cities in the world. However, during my most recent trip to London, I stumbled upon the work of Zineb Sedira.

Although I was unfamiliar with Zineb, I was immediately intrigued when I discovered she had an exhibit showing at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London. Her most recent exhibit, Dreams Have No Titles, was on display at the Whitechapel Gallery and closed May 12th. It showcased her dedication to exploring the intersection of film and identity. 

Zineb’s work is a testament to her unique background. Born to Algerian immigrant parents in France in 1963 and later moving to London in the 1980s, her art reflects her diverse experiences and cultural influences. This can be seen in her early work such as Une générations de femmes and Quatre Générations de Femmes, 1997, which explores her interest in the installation art form while touching on her experience with religion and womanhood. 

As seen in both of these installations, they are hand silk-screened printed patterns onto wallpaper depicting Islamic tile art, also known as Girih tiles. In both Une générations de femmes and Quatre Générations de Femmes, each translating to “Four Generations of Women” and “A Generation of Women,” both highlighting herself and the women in her life and their relationship to religion. Due to the geometric nature of the piece, Zineb intricately places these images of herself and other women within each shape. Upon first glance, the viewer may not see the faces. However, when taking a closer look, the faces appear, leading viewers to reckon with how they view women and how their work in society may not always be visible. 

Zineb Sedira’s early work showcases her dedication to installation pieces. Dreams Have No Titles continues her exploration of memory as an ode to the art of filmmaking. You are immediately drawn into an interactive experience as you enter the exhibit space. The first recreated film set, “Le Bal” by director Ettore Scola, invites the audience to immerse themselves in a performance between two unknown characters. As I watched the performance and looked around the space to see a bar, small tables, and chairs alongside them, with disco balls illuminating the dance floor, I had many questions regarding who the couple was and, most importantly, “Why are they dancing?” After doing so much research, I found that “Le Bal” is a wordless film that, through movement, challenges French society. By recreating the “Le Bal Tango,” particularly as the first installation piece, Zineb cements herself as a detail-oriented unconventional artist with something to say. 

Click image to enlarge.

Furthermore, this lays the foundation for understanding how Zineb engages with cinema, which is evident through the exhibit’s catalog and is a departure from the norm. It features three newspapers, each titled after a significant place that has influenced the exhibit. These include Algiers, Paris, and Venice, where the exhibit was initially displayed during the 2022 Venice Biennale. 

Issue 1, Algiers, Forms of Desire, explores notions of desire. Upon opening, you are greeted with an editorial letter with the first few sentences setting the tone for the rest of your journey through the exhibit: 

“Desire comes in many forms. Cinema is certainly among the most fertile grounds for the formation, manifestation, and representation of desire. The impulse behind and the anxiety that the act of filmmaking triggers may lie in a desire to bear witness, to represent oneself or Other, to unpack contested stories.” 

This comment rings true in Zineb Sedira’s pursuit to continuously create, evident in her experience as an art student at the Central Saint Martins in London during the 1980s. Despite not being a born and raised Londoner, Zineb’s deep connection to the city resonates throughout her work. One section of the exhibit is a heartfelt tribute to her time in South London, which shaped her art and life, particularly her squatting experience during the 1980s. This last part of the exhibit offers insight into Zineb’s inspirations, humanizing her work. Her South London home in Brixton is recreated utilizing wallpaper to create key elements in her space. Simultaneously, it included books and pieces of vinyl that gave me a glimpse into what forms of “casual media” she consumes daily. 

Although I enjoyed this immersive experience of engaging with the films that have inspired Zineb, at times, experiencing the exhibit in its entirety was disconcerting due to the lack of information about each film set. Walking through the space, I could only find information regarding the film’s name and nothing else; titles such as ” The Stranger” and “The Battle of Algiers” graced the walls. However, despite the need for more information about the film’s construction and relevance to Zineb, I found the construction of each set to be well-crafted. The set of the movie “F for Fake” by Orson Welles and “The Stranger” feels like the barebones of the beginnings of the film, highlighting Zineb’s interest in the art of filmmaking and gaining a deeper understanding of how the creation of a film set contributes to the storytelling element. Cinema should be an extension of our desires in both a metaphorical and literal sense.

Dreams Have No Titles is a raw documentation of inside the mind of an artist who finds inspiration in all forms of creation. The final piece of the exhibit includes a short film detailing the significance of each set seen throughout the exhibit on a large screen set up as a movie theatre. Small details such as this highlight her passion for cinema and the fun and thrill movie theatergoers feel when seeing a film. Through celebrating her favorite films and directors, Zineb Sedira encourages others to explore their heritage through what makes them passionate because our story needs to be told. 

© Jessica Bond (5/13/24) — Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Check out Zineb’s website here, for more information regarding her work. 

Read more about Zineb’s inspirations in an interview with Contemporary And.

Watch this video interview of Zineb regarding her work featured at the Whitechapel Gallery.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured photo: Zineb Sedira at the preview of her exhibit at the 59th Arte Biennale in Venedig (Italy). Image Credit: Felix Hörhager (4/19/22) / dpa picture alliance / Alamy Live News. Image ID: 2J53CMJ

Middle photo: Zineb’s recreation of the living room in Brixton.

Bottom photo: Zineb’s recreation of the set of the “Le Bal.”

Middle and bottom photos taken by Jessica Bond when she toured Zineb’s exhibit at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Authorized for responsible use as long as link to this post appears in user’s credits. Copyright FF2 Media.

Tags: Central Saint Martins, Dreams Have No Titles, East London, Ettore Scola, exhibit, Jessica Bond, London, Whitechapel Gallery, Zineb Sedira

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Jess joined FF2 Media as a 2020 graduate of Temple University's journalism program. She has a passion for the arts and using writing as a tool to spread awareness on social issues, independent and small artists. She is a 2021-2022 Fulbright recipient to the University of Sussex, getting her MA in Media and Cultural Studies. She hopes to become an international journalist focusing on local communities and showing the beauty within them.
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