I have just been to an exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms, London, called The Last of the Dictionary Men which presented in audio, video and photography the history of Yemeni sailors who came to South Shields (UK) at a time when the north of England's maritime industry was thriving and needed foreign hands to come and work.
These men ended up settling and staying in the UK. They attest to the birth of what is called here "Arab-British identity".
The exhibition is a project brought to fruition by film director Tina Gharavi and was structured in three parts:
Portraits from photographs taken and hand painted by the renown Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil.
A projection of Tina Gharavi's film King of South Shields which presents the Yemeni-British men who met Muhammad Ali (yup, THE Muhammad Ali) who came to the North East of England in 1977 and had his wedding blessed in South Shields at its Al-Azhar Mosque (the first purpose built mosque in Britain).
And an installation: old TV sets playing each of these men's stories, as they had been interviewed and recorded by Gharavi's team, the videos of which the audience could tune into individually with the headphones hooked by the tv column's side like the phone handles hanging in old style phone booths.
The title "The Last of the Dictionary Men" is what tempted me to go and I was curious, why dictionary men? Tina explained to me that the title was a clin d'oeil, a wink to the Arabic script born in Yemen. What a beautiful thought and association to language and exile.
Where does Algeria fit in? Well, when will come the day when I/you/we'll walk in an exhibition room, a university (not a museum it would be too morbid) to go and listen to the recorded story of Algerian women and men who lived and live in Algeria, the generation of our grandparents who still remembers the independence (and its usurpation), those who survived the 90s. But, hey, but not the stories of expats please, I find expats excruciating... except for Harragas whose stories are going to have to be faced at some point, and this telling has been begun already by Merzak Allouache ....
and Slimane Ouguenoune with Harraga UK ...
... and no doubt a few others.
The memory of a people is that of a collective. A people is a collective, plural and singular by definition.