Leïla Sebbar’s ‘collective autobiography’ Journey in Algerias around my room

Traces of Algeria in France come to Exeter

An exhibition providing a snapshot of the tensions between Algeria and France is being exhibited at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.

It represents a landmark first showing of the exhibition ‘Algeria(s) in France: a journey through identity’ in the UK, by the artist Leïla Sebbar.

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Algerian War of Independence, a bloody eight-year conflict between France and Algeria which marked the loosening of France’s colonial hold on North Africa and a new era of self-determination for Algeria. Leïla Sebbar, a contemporary novelist and photographer, is half-Algerian and half-French. Her work captures the uneasy tryst between the two countries that has been characterised by violence and a deliberate ‘amnesia’ surrounding the ignominious events of the Algerian War.

Leïla Sebbar is based in Paris and is renowned in the French-speaking world for her intimate and thought-provoking responses to an Algerian history to which she tries to lay claim, and many of her works have been translated into English, ensuring a success in the Anglophone world which illustrates the universal questions of identity and belonging with which her work engages.

This exhibition offers, for the first time in the UK and in this important anniversary year, a snapshot of her photo-diary, as she attempts to negotiate her troubled history, and locate her personal story and experience within a historical and social context. The exhibition is a series of 15 panels taken from Leïla Sebbar’s ‘collective autobiography’ Journey in Algerias around my room (Voyage en Algéries autour de ma chambre), the third part of a trilogy published by Éditions Bleu autour in 2008. It opens at the Street Gallery in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies on 12 October.

A timely reflection on Franco-Algerian relations, the text and images show how the relationship between France and Algeria is still fraught with tension, and chart personal and collective traces of Algeria throughout France. Sebbar depicts a nostalgia for a lost Algerian homeland, alongside the difficulties of integration for French citizens of Algerian origin, and she offers an incisive snapshot of the tensions between Algeria and France at the time of this important historical anniversary.

The exhibition is the result of a long collaboration between the artist and Dr Helen Vassallo, Senior Lecturer in French in the Department of Modern Languages, who has written extensively on her work, and who will give an introductory talk at the preview on 11 October.

Dr Helen Vassallo said: “I am delighted that we have secured this exhibition here at Exeter for its first UK showing and am grateful to Leïla Sebbar and Éditions Bleu autour for the loan of the materials. It is fitting that the exhibition should be on show in the Street Gallery in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, since it highlights intersections between East and West Orient and Occident, as well as opening a dialogue between personal experience and collective memory, history and nostalgia.”

She added: “Above all, Sebbar’s work engages with the traces of the almost-forgotten, and attempts to re-site a lost Algerian history in a France which seems increasingly hostile to ethnic difference. This work offers new ways of re-thinking the history between France and Algeria, and works towards an integration which is always at the forefront of the French cultural agenda”.

The exhibition will be previewed at 6pm on 11 October, and thereafter will be on display from12 October until 23 November and is open to members of the public free-of-charge from 9am-5pm.

Date: 11 October 2012