By Sophie McMahon
Curated by Professor Martin Evans (University of Sussex) to commemorate 60 years since Algeria's liberation from French colonialism, this live event forefronted the histories of women in the anti-colonial struggle.
An interesting conversation between the Head of Exhibitions at the De La Warr Pavilion, Joseph Constable, and Zineb Sedira, whose work 'Can't You See the Sea Changing?' is currently on display in the gallery, was a highlight of the evening. The Pavilion's coastal setting provides a dynamic and appropriate backdrop to her ongoing investigation into the sea as a motif and geopolitically charged space, inspired by her parents boat migration from Algeria to France. The venue she chose, as well as the manner in which she presented her exhibition—combining film and archival material, photography, and installation—shows her interest in immersing the observer within her work.
Further, another of Sedira’s projects, which involved connecting the UK to Algeria via lighthouses, was particularly thought-provoking. Examining the log books kept by lighthouse keepers in Algeria dating back to the colonial era of the 1950s/60s, she was able to trace time and politics through studying the language in which each observation was written (French or Arabic). Only a few were in Arabic after March 18, 1962, when the French government and its Algerian counterparts signed an agreement paving the way for Algerian independence. Whereas there were almost no French observations after the official Independence Day on July 5, 1962. As guards of Algerian history both metaphorically and physically, the lighthouses have stood witness to the horrific bloodshed that stained the Mediterranean sea during this era.
Constable added to this discussion with the idea that lighthouses are guards of Algerian history both physically and metaphorically. As they stand tall and emit light as beacons for navigational aid yet have also witnessed the horrific bloodshed in the Mediterranean sea during the colonial era.
Zineb Sedira’s ‘Can’t You See the Sea Changing?’ exhibition is running at the De La Warr Pavilion from Saturday 24 September 2022 – Sunday 8 January 2023, more information can be found here.
The next talk took place between Martin Evans and Nadja Makhlouf, who was in attendance via zoom from her French home. Makhlouf's work attempts to break the stereotype that surrounds women, particularly those of Arabic origin, by spotlighting those who are frequently overlooked.
Makhlouf left France for Algeria over ten years ago with the goal of liberating women from colonialism and bringing their voices to the forefront. She described the project's impetus as the story of a woman who fought with the FLN (National Liberation Front) but remains invisible in the popular narrative.
The women she met were most often known to her network of friends who were keen to help with the project in any way that they could. Many of those that she met had never been contacted before, which echoes what Sedira had mentioned earlier in the evening about the power in ‘resisting forgetting’ these untold stories.
The photographs she opted to exhibit online as part of the project are accompanied by images from the women’s own personal archives from the colonial period. Evans interestingly asked Makhlouf how she felt her photography differed from colonial style imagery of women to which she replied that her work was fundamentally centred around consent. The idea of women being part of the work and for there never to be a distinction between the photographer and the subject. This juxtaposed the violation that women would have experienced during the colonial period.
The online exhibition ‘Nadja Makhlouf: El Moudjahidate: Invisible to Visible The Role and Memory of Women Fighters Anti-Colonial Resistance Fighters in Algeria’ is available to view here.
Photographs courtesy of Sophie McMahon