Visual arts

Zineb Sedira discusses the French Pavilion at the International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia in 2022

I wanted to tell, but also to pass on, my parents' experience to my children so they could learn about this Algerian and French identity.

Selected as the next artist for the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Zineb Sedira talks about this upcoming project and the creation of her artistic community. As a visual artist who combines photography, video and sculpture, she investigates memory, post-colonialism, the history of the relationship between France and Algeria and its transmission to new generations.

The French Pavilion is produced by the Institut français, in partnership with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Culture. 

Updated on 22/04/2022

10 min

Zineb Sedira
Zineb Sedira © DR

You were born in Paris and educated in France, before pursuing your higher education in London, at Central St Martin's School of Art and the Slade School of Art. How did this desire to create art come into your life? 

As a child I drew a lot and showed an interest in art from an early age, so my parents enrolled me in classes such as pottery and puppet making. Later, as a teenager and young adult, living in Paris allowed me to be surrounded by artist and musician friends, with whom I continued to be interested in art creation. It was something that came naturally from a young age. When I came to London in 1986, I was mainly interested in learning the language and discovering a new city, but as time went on I attended evening classes and my teachers encouraged me to take up more serious studies. I didn't know what to choose between applied arts and fine arts, but I was soon advised to go for painting and sculpture. 


Working between Algiers, London and Paris, you are a French artist with a multiple identity. Your work mixes autobiography, fiction and documentary in an investigation of memory and transmission. When did you decide to take up this theme? Were you inspired by the work of other artists? 

Coming from a family of Algerian origin, born in the colonial era, I was immediately interested in post-colonial issues. For me, it was natural to use my parents' history to talk about themes that affected me. When I became a mother in the early 1990s, I wanted to tell my children about their experience, but also to pass it on to them, and I wondered how to make them aware of this Algerian and French identity. In London, my references were artists with an immigrant background, often of Afro-Caribbean, Indian or Pakistani origin, whom I met during my art classes. With them, I could compare my own experience with theirs, but also discover a story that was both similar and different, where our narratives came together. I was very lucky to be able to work in England, which is known for its pioneering work on post-colonial theories. 

My work is very autobiographical and, by extension, I have created my own family, my own artistic community.

Your creations take the form of photographs, videos and sculptures. How do you select the media for your work? Are they directly correlated with the subjects you tackle? 

The medium varies according to the subject or the commission. I am an artist who is often commissioned to create works for museums, and I am lucky enough to receive a budget for this. I can also be given a theme, although this is more rare. Then, depending on the space or the theme, I choose how to approach it. This often takes the form of a video, but I also produce sculptures and installations. The idea does not come from the medium, it is rather correlated to the exhibition space. For example, if I have a very large budget, I can shoot on film instead of digital, but these are choices that depend on the budget allocated. 


Can you tell us about the installation that will be presented in the French Pavilion? 

In 2019, I had already exhibited a project at the Jeu de Paume on Third Worldism, but also on activism and the way in which culture could be used as a militant tool or weapon to defend anti-colonial ideas. In direct continuity with this, I decided to focus on cinema from the 1960s/1970s and the co-productions between Italy, France and Algeria for the film that will be shown in the French Pavilion. At that time, Algeria had to invest in order to develop Algerian cinema because there was no industry. So the state injected a lot of money into film production to develop the careers of young directors, while co-producing films with French or Italian filmmakers (among others, as there were co-productions with many countries). I am interested in this triangular relationship between France, Italy and Algeria, in evoking these alliances, these cultural, intellectual and political solidarities between the three countries. 


You have chosen a team of curators to support you, made up of long-time collaborators such as Yasmina Reggad, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. To what extent does this valuable relationship of trust allow you to organise this exhibition together? 

My work is very autobiographical and, by extension, I have created my own family, my own artistic community. For the Biennale project, I chose to work with many friends and long-time collaborators. When it came to selecting the curators, it was obvious to me to invite people I could trust, with whom I get along, who are intellectually advanced. I was sure I could have real conversations with them. For example, Yasmina is a friend, but she also knows the Algerian scene and the country's colonial and post-colonial history very well. It was important to work with a curator who could understand what I was talking about without having to do a lot of research. It's exactly the same with Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, and they have already done a lot of exhibitions around these themes. I like to be in a good mood when I work, especially as the Venice Biennale is an extremely important project, for which I need to be accompanied and reassured by people close to me. 

In 2011, I set up aria (Artist residency in Algiers), so that artists could come and do research and develop projects, while exchanging with local artists at the same time.

Together with Yasmina Reggad, you founded aria (Artist residency in Algiers), which helps to develop the contemporary art scene in the country. How does it support artists in their daily lives in real terms? 

In the mid-2000s, I had access to a flat in the centre of Algiers and, over time, many friends and colleagues who were artists or researchers came to stay there. Many of them were interested in the topic of post-colonialism but were still worried about visiting the country. It should be remembered that after the 1990s, also known as the black decade, Algeria had very bad press and was not as popular with tourists as Morocco or Tunisia. Every time I went to Algiers, I invited them to come with me, which started in a totally informal way. Over there, they met young local artists who had just graduated from the Beaux-Arts but didn't have a visa and couldn't travel. In 2011, I formalised this idea and set up aria so that artists could come and do research and develop projects, while exchanging with local artists at the same time. 


What are your aspirations for this installation at the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art? Do you hope for new collaborations at the end of it or do you already have other projects in mind for the future? 

For the future, I have plans for personal exhibitions of existing works, which are not new commissions. I also have the possibility of creative project with a museum in the United States, but I'm waiting to find out what is going to be possible with the ongoing health crisis. Obviously I hope to continue to be invited to solo or group exhibitions, even if the Venice Biennale remains one of the most important events for me. Depending on the commissions, I will probably try to include a collaboration with a choice artist, but I have no idea yet who that artist will be. Above all, I want to continue working in this dynamic of family, artistic community and sharing, with a career as rewarding as it is now. 

The Institut français and the artist

Zineb Sedira will represent France at the 59th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia in 2022, from 23 April to 27 November. The French Pavilion is jointly commissioned by the Institut français, the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, and the French Ministry of Culture. Find out more 

L'institut français, LAB