Unfinished Conversations محادثات لا منتهية : John Akomfrah, Zineb Sedira, Penny Siopis / Beirut Art Center, Beyrouth LB / 23 February – 2 May.15 / Opening reception: Monday 23 February 2015, 6pm to 9pm.

Beirut Art Center presents Unfinished Conversations, the first exhibition in its two-year program of exhibitions, events and educational activities, entitled Present Time.Ourselves. Unfinished Conversations is first and foremost an exhibition of films and videos that gathers the works of British artist John Akomfrah, Franco/Algerian artist Zineb Sedira, and South African artist Penny Siopis. A series of talks will also be taking place during the exhibition.

The Unfinished Conversations project is a tribute to the late British and Caribbean thinker, cultural theorist and sociologist Stuart Hall (1932 -2014), who was one of the founders of the British concept of cultural studies, and co-founder of political magazine New Left Review. The works displayed here were chosen for the way in which they echo Hall’s conceptions. The constant motion of the film and the dispersion of speech refer to a central idea in his thinking: the necessary instability and multiple definitions of what is called identity. He conceived of the latter as a conversation “forever unfinished,” prone to the fluctuations of history and memory, and emanating from a constant exchange between oneself and others. This conception illuminates current discussions on racism and segregation, as well as different experiences of coexistence and dialogue.

The exhibition includes six distinct projections. The Unfinished Conversation (2012) is a three-channel video installation by John Akomfrah, based on Hall’s writings. Zineb Sedira’s installation Mother Tongue (2002) is a three-channel video installation that combines the issue of “mother” tongue and that of geographical and cultural displacement. She films her mother, her daughter and herself speaking the language of the country where they were raised: Arabic, English and French. Penny Siopis’films, My Lovely Day, The Master is Drowning, Communion and Obscure White Messenger, exhume an impossible speech, or a discourse that was never held, giving voice to unlikely figures from the history of apartheid, thus defeating this system’s binary nature.

John Akomfrah Born in Ghana in 1957 and educated in England from a young age, John Akomfrah has become a cinematic counterpart to such commentators of and contributors to the culture of the Black diaspora as Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Greg Tate and Henry Louis Gates. In doing so, he has continued to mine the audiovisual archive of the 20th century, re-contextualizing these images not only by selecting and juxtaposing them but also through the addition of eloquent and allusive text. He is a co-founder of Black Audio Film Collective. Since 1999 Akomfrah has been working on his own. But his films are based on found footage arranged to create cinematic poetry and then use this poetry to tell history afresh.

Zineb Sedira Born in Paris in 1963 to Algerian emigrants. As a second-generation immigrant she experienced both a European education and a North African Muslim culture and found herself negotiating between the two from an early age. Sedira’s practice investigates this negotiation, drawing on experiences of childhood and education and the complex familial relationships between Algeria, France and London. Her re-reading of Arab and Western culture challenges identity stereotypes as well as cultural and aesthetic expectations. In 2001, Sedira’s first autobiographical piece, the installation Four Generations was presented together with the screen projection Don’t do to her what you did to me in the first African pavilion at the 49th Venice Biennale. Her work was shown in several solo exhibitions including at the Photographer’s Gallery (London, 2006), Wapping Project (London, 2008), Pori Museum (Finland, 2009), BildMuseets (Sweden, 2010), Kunsthalle Nikolaj (Copenhagen, 2010), the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2010), [mac] musée d’Art contemporain of Marseille (2010), Prefix – Institute of Contemporary Art (Toronto, 2010)and at the Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver and Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2013). Her work was also shown in many group shows such as Tate Britain (London, 2002 /2013), Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2004/ 2009), Mori Museum (Tokyo, 2005), Musée d’Art Moderne of Alger (2007), Brooklyn Museum (New York, 2007), Mathaf (Qatar, 2010), the MuCEM (2013), Marseille, the Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea, the MMK Museum für Mordern Kunst, Germany (2014).

Penny Siopis Born in 1953 in Vryburg, South Africa, and lives in Cape Town. She studied Fine Arts at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, completing her master’s degree in 1976, after which she pursued postgraduate studies at Portsmouth Polytechnic in the United Kingdom. She taught Fine Arts at the Technikon, Natal in Durban from 1980 to 1983. In 1984 she took up a lectureship at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She is currently Honorary Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Siopis has exhibited widely, both in South Africa and internationally. Her retrospective exhibition Time and Again is on view at the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2014- 2015), and will travel to the Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg, in 2015. Other solo shows include Penny Siopis: Obscure White Messenger, Brandts Museum, Odense, Denmark (2014), Red: The iconography of colour in the work of Penny Siopis at the KZNSA Gallery, Durban (2009), and Three Essays on Shame at the Freud Museum, London (2005). Siopis is the recipient of many awards, including a British Council Scholarship, the Atelier Award for a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, the Alexander S. Onassis fellowship for research in Greece, and residencies at Delfina and the Gasworks in London, Civitelli Ranieri in Umbria, the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam and the Academy of Fine Arts in Athens and Delphi.

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