Diary of a Digital Artist, September 2004
I have met a lot of people from different origins. While we were foreigners often speaking English as a second language to communicate, we were also strangers from different cultures. I could list these countries, most I have never set foot in, yet their presence in our conversations was undeniably there, whether it be individual accents or a certain ir/reverence for English customs. With each encounter, I was reminded that I too had a culture.
I find the word “culture” troublesome. I once attended a module entitled “Cultural Practice” at The University of Greenwich. Far from associating the notion of practicality with a set of beliefs, I feared that my so-called culture had been so far a matter of contingency. I did not rebel against my parents’ customs, language or faith. Besides, my mother and my father were in many ways European and understood the importance of integration. My confusion started with a threat made by a sibling; I was not to speak Arabic, the language of my grandmother with whom I could not communicate without the presence of my mother as a translator. From a very young age, I was snatched of a voice, censored and threatened. Today, I live in England and speak English, a foreign language that has become as familiar as my mother tongue, French. I know for sure that the English voice in me cannot translate to the self that expresses itself more readily in French without any loss and vice-et-versa. There is no denying, I will never be whole.
I am incomplete. This serenade to you out there – what else to call it? – is romanticised by those who rely too much on their roots to the expense of the many grafts and choices made by individuals, or else converts every new addition into a lack. Mrs Atkinson was born in Algeria in a pieds noirs (French settlers) family of… She left for France with her parents in 1948 (?) well before the war. She arrived in England as an aupair in 197… at the age of… Mrs Atkinson has been living in England for 30 years and still speaks with a French accent (and so do I). There are no individuals by default in society because cultures evolve regardless of political manifestos, trade practices and open universities. Why else should there be so much debate about “our” borders?
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and of course 9/11 have brought Islam to the fore and, talks of conflicts and fundamentalism have replaced the liberal discourse of multiculturalism. In my first film, Portrait #1: Veiled Woman, I tackle the issue of the veil in Islam. My intention is not to polarise the argument but to isolate it from any parti pris, while it occurred to me that I am perhaps recreating my relationship with Islam through film.
I have never covered my head in the name of religion or been told to do so. The veil is a luxurious garment, an expensive scarf with tiny reflections. The woman takes it with the knowledge that it is a beautiful object.