Zineb Sedira: Saphir

29 Sept - 26 Nov 2006

This work by the London-based French/Algerian artist Zineb Sedira is a series of photographs and a two-screen video projection, shot in and around the port of Algiers.

The exhibition contrasts Sedira’s re-encounter with the sights and sounds of Algiers with an awareness that while she, like other people from France, is enjoying her return to the city, some of its other residents, disenchanted young men in particular, often dream of escape across the water to Europe. 

The title Saphir (French for sapphire) reflects this, evoking not only the pure maritime light typical of Algiers, but also those flickering glimmers on the horizon that symbolise people’s dreams and aspirations. In Arabic, the word safir also means ambassador — a person who travels between different places, the representative of one country on the soil of another. 

This play of meaning is extended through two central characters. The first is an Algerian man who walks across town, with no apparent purpose, and silently watches the daily ferries arrive and depart from the port. His image is counterpoised by that of an older woman — a daughter of the pieds noirs (a term for European settlers who left Algeria after its Independence). She inhabits the Safir Hotel, one of the grand landmarks of French colonial Algiers. Whose imposing architecture is a powerful and resonant reminder of a past that still casts its light, and shadow, over the city. Gazing out to sea from its balconies, before withdrawing to the faded grandeur of its lobbies and halls, the woman echoes the man’s movement and reinforces a wider sense of languor, inertia and enclosure. Both characters circle within their own separate but parallel worlds, their paths often appear to intersect but without any conclusion. 

Confronting the contemporary life of a city, Saphir presents a portrait of Algiers in a transitional moment,the local character gradually becoming absorbed into the current of increasing globalisation. 

Saphir is commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and The Photographers’ Gallery. 

Exhibition curated by Christine Van Assche, Senior Curator at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. 

A catalogue Zineb Sedira: Saphir accompanies this exhibition with texts by Christine Van Assche, Richard Dyer and Elvan Zabunyan. 

Exhibitions in association with Paris Calling: a season of contemporary art from France. Supported by Société Générale, Galerie Kamel Mennour, Black Moving Cube: Black Figuration and the Moving Image, Visiting Arts and The Henry Moore Foundation.