Temple Bar Gallery and Studios presents the first solo show in Ireland by highly acclaimed artist Zineb Sedira; her exhibition Saphir opens on 30th May and continues until July 7th 2007.
Sedira’s practice is framed by her Algerian heritage and her experience of living in France and London. This most recent work comprises a series of photographs and a two-screen projection, shot in and around the port of Algiers. While Sedira’s work provides an insight into the different worlds of East and West, her approach is not documentary or obviously political. Saphir has a cinematic beauty and universal narrative that resonates as poetic and compelling.
The dialogue in Saphir develops between the sea, as metaphor for both connection and separation and between the two protagonists: the lone figure of the man starting out to sea and the woman waiting in the Es Safir hotel. Central to the exhibition is the juxtaposition of imagery to suggest that while Sedira enjoys the rediscovery of her homeland, many of its disillusioned young men are contemplating escape across the water to Europe.
The title Saphir (sapphire in French) echoes the presence of the colour blue throughout the film, reflected in the expanse of the sky and the sea, the ferry and the trimmings of the hotel. The blurred blue horizon at which the lone figure gazes, symbolizes the dreams and aspirations of a particular disenchanted demographic. In Arabic, the word safir also means ambassador: a person who travels between different places. This dual meaning is explored by Sedira, as she creates a dynamic between notions of arrival and departure. The central figure of the Algerian man strolls aimlessly across town and watches in silence the daily ferries arrive and depart from the port. His solitary image is juxtaposed on the second screen with that of an older woman, who is the returning daughter of the pied noirs: a term to describe European settler who left Algeria after its independence. She inhabits the neglected Art Deco hotel, Es Safir, on the seafront and she too gazes languidly out to sea. In the catalogue essay, Christine Van Assche writes that “the poetics of the desire for escape is the subject of the film”. Sedira displays a poet’s sensibility in her use of subtle and romantic imagery to illustrate this yearning for transit, in opposition to any direct statements about identity, race, migration, colonialism.
The French colonial legacy in Algiers is notably evident in the city’s architecture, merging history and the present. Saphir evokes a sense of the past with its lingering shots of formerly splendid and now dilapidated buildings, symbolizing the fading influence of the colonial power. In her photographic series of the French colonial ruins along the cliff face, the broken remnants of patterned tiles and the frameless windows emphasis the vestiges of a faded era. Similarly the Es Safir, a grand landmark of French colonial Algiers, gives the initial impression of grandeur when the façade is in fact crumbling and peeling.
The Algeria presented by Sedira is one of a country in transition, struggling to assert itself in a rapidly evolving global economy. The closing frame of the film is a panoramic view of the seafront and harbour, finally resting on the flag of Algeria, perhaps in a declaration of its identity.
Zineb Sedira was born in Paris in 1963. She studied at St. Martin’s School of Art and Design, the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal College of Art in London where she has lived since 1986. She recently presented Saphir at The Photographers Gallery, London from 29 September – 26 November 2006.
Saphir - Zineb Sedira 2006 - commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and The Photographers' Gallery and funded by Arts Council England and The Henry Moore Foundation. www.zinebsedira.com
Exhibition Launch: Tuesday, 29th May 2007, 6 - 8 pm