For Spring, 2024, Whitechapel Gallery presents the UK debut of the critically acclaimed exhibition Dreams Have No Titles by French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira (b.1963 France, lives and works in London). 

Originally conceived for the French Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale (2022), Sedira’s multimedia installation transforms the gallery spaces into a series of carefully constructed film sets which reference specific films, as well as elements of the artist’s personal history. Visitors are invited to participate in an unfolding narrative where fiction and documentary, the personal and the collective, are blurred and intertwined.

Dreams Have No Titles addresses a pivotal moment in the history of cultural, intellectual and avant-garde filmmaking during the 1960s and 70s – particularly across France, Italy and Algeria. This fertile period was especially important for pursuing filmmaking as a vehicle for collaborative practice, and as an instrument to express solidarity with liberation struggles and promote social change.  Installations inspired by scenes from co-productions between Algeria, France and Italy – such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1966) and Luchino Visconti’s L’Etranger (1967), among others – provide a stage for the artist to tell her own histories: of France, of Algeria; of decolonisation and displacement; but also of solidarity, freedom and hope.

The visitor’s first encounter is a ballroom – the reconstruction of a set from Ettore Scola’s groundbreaking film Le Bal (1983).  From time to time, this space will be activated by a pair of tango dancers like those in Le Bal, who will perform both for an imaginary camera, and visitors to the exhibition. 

Beyond this scene, additional set pieces are revealed, each adding further layers of mystery.  A dressing room; a stage cluttered with discarded instruments, a green screen (a method used in film to add in a different background); and two further recreations of significant film scenes particularly resonant for Sedira.

The last set in the exhibition presents an exact facsimile of Sedira’s living room in Brixton, London. Books, film posters and objects from the films referenced in the exhibition line the wall and shelves. Visitors can settle into her sofa to read, reflect, chat or watch the TV which plays a video of two women engaged in a discussion: the artist Sonia Boyce and curator Gilane Tawadros (now Director, Whitechapel Gallery). Long-term collaborators and friends of Sedira, the pair talk about art making and its contexts in 1990s London. The scene highlights the importance of friendship, shared history, viewpoints and agency. 

Adjacent to the living room stands an industrial shelving unit stacked with film reels: Sedira’s work, F For Fake, which takes its title from Orson Welles’ film of the same name.  Importantly, it provides a link to Welles’ claim that ‘film is about trickery’ – a line which appears in Sedira’s own film, Dreams Have No Titles, which provides the final scene in the exhibition.

Dreams Have No Titles invites considerations of reality and artifice, the role of the artist as ‘author’ and ‘character’, and the position of the visitor as viewer and participant. The installation powerfully draws attention to the complex layering of history and the impossibility of presenting a single, fixed interpretation of it. Through the intersection of performance, music, dance, installation and film, the artist foregrounds the importance – and joy – of collective shared experiences, while simultaneously raising a warning about the failure of the emancipatory dream that for many people remains an unfulfilled promise.

Alongside the exhibition, Sedira in collaboration with fellow film enthusiasts and specialists, will curate a programme of liberationist cinema, highlighting the international networks of cinema that emerged in the 1960s and exist to this day and inviting further discussion.

Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles
15 February -12 May 2024
Galleries 1, 2, 8 & 9
Admission: £12.50 (Standard ticket); £9.50 (Concessions)

By: Nura Arooj