Katharina Otto-Bernstein Screening Room, Lenfest Center for the Arts
Living with Ghosts explores how the unresolved traumas of Africa’s colonial past and its unfulfilled project of decolonization continue to haunt its present. The exhibition proposes that lens-based media, such as photography and film, possess a unique capacity to materialize the ghostliness of Africa’s postcolonial condition given the spectral structure inherent to such media.
Thinking beyond the gallery as the primary venue for encountering exhibitions, Living with Ghosts will screen a selection of six single-channel artworks over the course of an afternoon. These screenings form a constitutive segment of the exhibition, and in their collective terms of viewership, aim to echo the poetic-political aspirations of Third Cinema – a revolutionary cinematic movement arising in Asia, Africa, and Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s that sought to expand the decolonial imagination amongst its audiences. All the selected works, which speak to multiple regions within and outside the African continent, thematize and materialize this notion of ghostliness through audiovisual and discursive references to memory, trauma, archives, architecture, and landscapes.
Please note that this is an in-person presentation. Registration is required and grants entry/re-entry any time to all films throughout the afternoon. There will be two 15-minute breaks in between each of the three screening segments below.
In this documentary realist essay-film, Attia conducts a series of interviews with surgeons, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, musicians, and art historians in multiple global locations to discuss the psycho-medical condition of phantom limb syndrome and its conceptual connotations for understanding societies traumatized by war, genocide and colonization. Intercutting these talking-head interviews with uncannily still scenes of various subjects inexplicably sitting and standing in numerous urban environments, Attia’s deceptively realist style slowly unravels throughout the film’s duration.
Filipa César, The Embassy, 2011, 37 minutes, 6 seconds
Shot with a hovering static camera, César’s work records the Guinean archivist, Armando Lona, flipping through the weathered pages of a photo-album stored at the national archives in Guinea-Bissau. This archival document contains grid-arranged photographs of the country’s architecture and monuments, taken during the colonial era in the 1940s and 1950s. In orally responding to these photographs with historical instances of anti-colonial resistance against the Portuguese colonists, Lona coolly unsettles the imperial narrativizations emplaced unto these images.
Onyeka Igwe, a so-called archive, 2021, 19 minutes, 40 seconds
Igwe’s work poetically blends shot footage of two abandoned colonial archival buildings – the Colonial Film Unit in Lagos, Nigeria, which during the colonial period produced short propagandistic films on health and education that were exhibited to West African audiences through mobile cinema vans, and the Bristol Temple Meads in Bristol, UK, an old railway station that until recently housed the historical records, photographs and films that comprise the British Empire and Commonwealth museum collection. Through a filmic suturing of two seemingly disparate geographies, a so-called archive renders visually and sonically palpable the enduring spatial entanglements formulated by Empire and additionally reflects on the material constitution of the cinematic image itself as inextricable from the colonial project.
Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, Promised Lands, 2015-18, 20 minutes
In Promised Lands, a fragmentary tale of Afro-European entanglement unfolds over a gradually darkening East African landscape at sunset. The work features the artist’s uncle’s voice, Patrick Wanambwa, as well as the artist’s vocal reanimation of Theodor Hertzka, a 19th century Austro-Hungarian economist who tried to establish a utopian settlement (“Freeland”) in East Africa. Framing the landscape as a spectral witness to multiple histories of internal and external displacements, Promised Lands also makes reference to the tens of thousands of Eastern European war refugees who, aided by the British colonial government, were re-settled in East Africa following World War II.
Set in Kenya and Tanzania, Bhimji’s highly affective work conveys the inestimable losses inflicted by colonial trauma. Moving through unpeopled East African landscapes and dilapidated colonial buildings like a wandering ghost, viewers are led to examine, in almost abstract detail, the decaying surfaces of spatial environments haunted by the residues of unspeakable past events. Through disjunctive, off-screen sounds and sensual visual compositions, Jangbar communicates the a-linguistic dimensions of traumatic postcolonial memory.
John Akomfrah, The Nine Muses, 2010, 94 min.
Akomfrah’s work offers an allegorical meditation on African, Caribbean, and Asian mass migrations into Britain after WWII—a fraught period marked by the dissolution of Empire and the fight for national independence. A diaspora-inflected adaptation of the Homeric epic, The Nine Muses reconfigures the Odyssean tale of journeying through nine musical chapters stitched together with archival clips of formerly colonized migrants descending unto British territory from ships and planes, shot footage of an anonymous man wandering through a snowy landscape, and spoken and written excerpts from a range of writers from William Shakespeare and Friedrich Nietzsche to Matsuo Basho and Rabindrath Tagore.