Critics’ Picks

Zineb Sedira, Mother Tongue, 2002, three channel video, color, sound, 4 minutes.

Zineb Sedira, Mother Tongue, 2002, three channel video, color, sound, 4 minutes.


Zineb Sedira

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
7374 East Second Street
May 8, 2021–January 30, 2022

In Zineb Sedira’s three-channel video Mother Tongue, 2002, several generations of the artist’s family—including herself, her mother, and her daughter—participate, at times, in an awkward discussion about their own childhood memories in their native tongues: French, Arabic, and English, respectively. Yet by the time grandmother and granddaughter are in conversation, mutual understanding has broken down. Both offer surreptitious glances toward the camera, behind which Sedira, presumably, acts as translator and the binding force between the two.

Though we rarely see Sedira herself in this show—aptly titled “Voice-Over” and guest-curated by Natasha Boas—her presence is felt everywhere. In the two-screen projection The End of the Road, 2010, we are presented with a junkyard in Britain. As the camera pans over busted cars, tanks, and scrap metal, we hear the artist associating this landscape of obsolescence with travel, globalization, and, in her words, “the existentialist idea of drifting.” Yet in this meditation on waste and wreckage, the artist locates moments of haunting beauty, such as the almost symmetrical framing of a truck’s rusted hubcap and discarded tire.

Most of the gallery is taken up by Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go, 2021, a multimedia installation that explores the 1969 Pan-African Festival of Algiers. A roughly nine-minute film of spliced and scanned 8-mm footage opens onto a large room filled with posters, photographs, photomontages, and various bit of ephemera, all of which line brightly colored walls. This compilation of images documents the decolonization of Africa; the festival was a celebration of this moment. At the heart of the exhibition is a life-size photographic diorama of the artist’s living room from her London home. Sitting on a replica of Sedira’s couch, visitors can watch a video of her friend, Algerian scholar Nadira Aklouche-Laggoune, discuss the experience of visiting the fete as a teenager. Throughout the show, Sedira intentionally blurs the line between personal memory and historical record, cleverly interpreting the past so that it may be activated in the present.