SURREALISM ENTERED INTO A MAGNETIC alternate with Négritude within the Thirties and Forties. The former aimed to dysfunction typical varieties, liberate the creativeness, and problem the notion of goal actuality whereas delving into the oneiric, mystical, and suppressed. The latter motion, in the meantime, advocated for the legitimacy, specificity, and autonomy of Black civilizations, worldviews, and cultures. In Surrealism, Négritude discovered a consonant spirit of grinning insurrection, in addition to an efficient methodology for refuting the colonial world order. The preliminary encounter between them formally occurred when their respective founding figures—André Breton, and Suzanne and Aimé Césaire respectively—met, exchanged letters, and skim one another’s works.
This dynamic interaction and its ensuing strategies stay on in latest moving-image works by Nuotama Bodomo, Ja’Tovia Gary, Christopher Harris, and Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich. These Black experimental filmmakers are honoring and reenergizing Négritude and Surrealism by excavating the previous with the intention to problem dominant social paradigms and aesthetics within the current. While a few of their works are threaded with Surrealism’s formal markers—the anarchic playfulness, temporal disorganization, and kaleidoscopic close-ups in Gary’s An Ecstatic Experience (2015); the erratic tempo, undisciplined camerawork, and dream logic in Hunt-Ehrlich’s Spit on the Broom (2019)—others interact Négritude’s Black cultural staff as topics. These artists purposely derange cinema by using nonlinear time, conjoining analog and digital methods, producing unstable photos, repeating visuals and sounds, and toying with types of concealment and camouflage. These subversive methods assault the digital camera’s pretense to being an goal index and lambaste the idea of a common actuality.
For essentially the most half, these filmmakers conjure the historic actions by imaginatively indirect varieties, although Hunt-Ehrlich’s direct engagement with Négritude as her movie’s topic serves as a compelling level of entry. The New York–born and –based mostly artist is at the moment engaged on a movie about Suzanne Césaire, who was a key architect of the convergences between Négritude and Surrealism. The Martinican artist and author was pushed to disinvest from the phantasm of cohesion, which she explored in her heterogeneous essays and collages. Many have been revealed within the literary evaluation Tropiques (1941–45), which Césaire cofounded along with her husband, Aimé, and different Martinican writers. In a 2016 article for the French Review, scholar Kara Rabbitt described Césaire’s strand of Caribbean Surrealism as one which “functions as a creolized, active process of cultural choice and creation.” This made Surrealism “neither a doctrine nor a gift, but a weapon and a choice to be actively selected and taken up by these Caribbean writers.” Colonialism and imperialism have labored to painting Black cultures as uniform, primitive, and caught in an unchanging previous. By citing and reengaging Négritude, Hunt-Ehrlich works to create a hybrid counternarrative by the use of Césaire, insisting that viewers see these cultures as a substitute as manifold and cell.
More than a topic, although, Césaire has impressed up to date filmmakers to take up her dedication to fragmented plurality. In her 1945 essay “Le Grand Camouflage,” the writer emphasised poetic seeing as an energetic course of, and advocated trying past what appears instantly seen. She famous how the extravagant pure great thing about Martinique may at occasions masks its violent historical past. Césaire warned in opposition to the features of camouflage, which may distract from a lucid confrontation with the layered results of colonialism, and known as upon poets, with their specific perceptiveness, to see by this harmful “hide and seek.” These newer artists have retooled concealment as their very own technique, exploring its conceptual potentialities. Their strategy to camouflage provides a technique to take into account how Black movie may disrupt rigidly ordered colonial and bourgeois worldviews, creatively using the digital camera to disclose or trace at what is just not there however might be—or what is likely to be there whereas remaining hidden.
Hunt-Ehrlich’s beautiful brief Spit on the Broom, which she calls a “surrealist documentary,” is one instance of this camouflage. The movie revisits the historical past of the United Order of Tents, a gaggle of Black girls who clandestinely organized mutual assist efforts through the Reconstruction. The 11-minute piece is inflected with the Surrealist affinity for whimsical components, wayward irreverence, and surprising juxtapositions. One scene reveals a desk with brightly coloured desserts that disintegrate over the course of a number of pictures, and one other has a disembodied arm holding a hand mirror in entrance of bamboo timber. Apart from a voiceover that attracts from public information and newspapers, it reveals nothing of the key group of the United Order of Tents instantly, and Spit on the Broom makes no pretense of being solely factual or full. The movie as a substitute allusively honors the subversive historical past of those Black girls with out putting them underneath scrutiny. This work was screened together with Hunt-Ehrlich’s Outfox the Grave (2020) and two works by Bodomo—Afronauts (2014) and Boneshaker (2013)—within the “Black Surreal” section of an October 2020 program on Black girls’s experimental filmmaking at Princeton University, co-curated by artist Simone Leigh and theorist Tina Campt. During the discuss previous the screening, the 2 filmmakers mentioned tactical types of veiling, the ethics of secrecy, and a shared crucial of utilizing their photos to reveal in addition to shield. Both artists have been suspicious of the potential of whole visible reality.
Cinema scholar Terri Francis first recognized the relevance of Surrealism to up to date Black experimental filmmaking in a 2013 essay for Black Camera, adopting the time period “Afro-Surrealist Expressionism,” from the poet Amiri Baraka, who coined it in 1974. Francis wrote that “Afrosurrealism might be a sous-realism, a realism beneath.” This declare evokes what’s revealed within the interstice between Surrealism and Négritude: the contested terrain of the “real.” And actually, one of many very first works of scholarship on African cinema—filmmaker Paulin Soumanou Vieyra’s 1975 e book, Le Cinéma africain: des origines à 1973—relates the Surreal to Black artwork particularly as a follow of uncovering what’s hid. He contends that “Negro art appears as a surreal manifestation of a reality beyond visible reality.” It due to this fact requires a specific mode of viewing: “beyond appearance, [Negro art] demands, in order to be grasped, the participation of one’s entire being. And so are revealed the truths of hidden things.” More just lately, artist and author D. Scot Miller claimed in his key 2013 textual content “Afrosurreal Manifesto: Black Is the New Black—a 21st-Century Manifesto,” that the “Afrosurreal presupposes that beyond the visible world, there is an invisible world striving to manifest, and it is our job to uncover it.” The filmmakers drawing from these traditions are keenly conscious of what lies exterior dominant cinematic frames. Crucially, their strategy to uncovering evades surveillance, mastery, and absolute publicity, that are the area of colonial visuality, to as a substitute enact processes of camouflage. They use speculative, Surrealist methods to undercut a singular hegemonic actuality.
CHALLENGING DOMINANT VISUAL CULTURE has been a long-standing activity for Black filmmakers—notably these consciously reckoning with the racist and colonialist foundations of cinematic applied sciences. In addition to methods of camouflage, Black cultural staff then and now have recuperated interrupted ancestries and historic lineages with an creative impulse—not passively re-citing the previous, however activating it, illuminating the continuities of each oppressive techniques and resistance in opposition to them.
The cinema of Nuotama Bodomo—a nomadic filmmaker of Dagaaba origin at the moment based mostly in Tamale, Ghana—explores the capability of the shifting picture to open onto globally sidelined realities. Her morbid and marvelous Everybody dies! (2016) is a 9-minute fictional work masquerading as a hypothetical public entry program through which a Black lady named Ripa the Reaper teaches kids about dying. The brief is a darkly humorous parody of an academic program with featurettes such because the “Murder Map,” “Whack a Soul,” and “What’s the Right Answer?” Before the final of those segments, she sends the white children out of the room and leaves solely the Black kids to interact within the recreation, however no questions are requested. Every reply they provide is asserted flawed, and the losers find yourself stuffed behind a door labeled dying. The brief is peppered with allusions to the distinct risks that Black kids face: the police, a stranger performing just like the police, exclusions from the innocence of childhood, and assumptions of criminality. Bodomo’s Surrealist twist on the tropes of the children’ tv program style is manipulated right into a reckoning with the realities buried beneath a supposed common enchantment.
Critics and curators have constantly recognized Afrosurrealist components in Bodomo’s movies, and Afrofuturist tendencies within the case of her 14-minute brief, Afronauts (2014). While the latter idea refers particularly to speculative types of Afrodiasporic cultural expression that draw from science fiction, imagining an alternate future for Black folks, each kinds are basically unbound from normative realism, and each resist provincializing Blackness. Afronauts turns to a lesser-known story of the worldwide area race: a science trainer named Edward Makuka Nkoloso based the unofficial Zambian area academy within the late Nineteen Sixties. The brief, which Bodomo is at the moment turning right into a characteristic, illustrates what the filmmaker sees as an “African everyday,” stating that any distinctions between the true and surreal should take cultural context under consideration.
Although the movie strikes with a dreamy high quality and makes use of methods like slow-motion and spinning camerawork, it’s not essentially futuristic or otherworldly. Afronauts is centered on a younger lady, based mostly on the real-life adolescent Matha Mwamba, who’s being skilled to be the primary Zambian citizen to hold out an area mission. The narrative foregrounds interpersonal tensions, the query of particular person sacrifice for a collective dream, and patriotism in a global context. While Afronauts includes area and science fiction, the movie is much less involved with hypothesizing concerning the future than with calling up a suppressed historical past and relocating it within the current. Bodomo’s deeply historic mission could have the thematic markers of Afrofuturism, however its affect is extra harking back to Afrosurrealism. The key distinction is that whereas Afrofuturism imagines futures that aren’t predetermined by a gift international actuality, it doesn’t essentially name that actuality into query. The urgency of Afrosurrealism, alternatively, is that it disputes the monopoly of a normative, common actuality. In Afronauts, sure pictures of the trainee astronaut along with her orb-like helmet, standing on sandy dunes in opposition to a starry night time sky, make it appear as if she may already be on the moon, or has landed there by the top. Whether or not the mission was profitable stays irresolvable, and Bodomo’s cinematic methodology deliberately evades litigation over what elements are “real” or not. The movie permits for a pluralistic and counter-hegemonic notion of actuality.
A Willing Suspension of Disbelief + Photography and Fetish (2014) by Christopher Harris, an artist and University of Iowa professor, is a surprising moving-image examine of the digital camera’s colonial underpinnings. Comprising six movies proven in a three-channel, split-screen set up, the work is a surreal quotation of a daguerreotype depicting Delia Taylor, an enslaved lady, whose portrait was commissioned in 1850 by Louis Agassiz, a Harvard professor invested in proving that Black and white folks have been actually separate species. In Harris’s movie, the actress standing in for Taylor reads fragments of Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Toni Morrison’s Playing within the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, and critic-curator Brian Wallis’s Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz’s Slave Daguerreotypes. The work’s collage-like composition, piecing collectively disparate texts, evokes the Surrealist methodology of juxtaposition that André Breton, quoting the Comte de Lautréamont, famously summarized as “beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.” Whereas Breton and different European Surrealists leaned towards a generalized type of disruption that was typically its personal finish, Harris, just like the Black Surrealists who have been Breton’s contemporaries, has a extra exact political purpose. The filmmaker scrambles the visible and sonic to subvert the firmly anti-Black and colonial biases of each the digital camera and Agassiz’s supposedly impartial scientific mission.
Harris’s Halimuhfack (2016) employs one other set of disorientating methods along side an internationalist strategy. The work combines instructional footage of the Masai with footage of an actress lip-synching to a recording of Zora Neale Hurston describing her anthropological methodology (alongside her extra well-known work as a novelist, she was additionally a cultural anthropologist and filmmaker). The actress seems seated in entrance of the display on which the ethnographic movie is projected, and the non-synchronicity between the audio and her shifting mouth creates a proper disjuncture. Over the course of the 4-minute brief, the aural and visible registers develop into more and more chaotic. Three-quarters of the way in which by, the phrases develop into solely indistinguishable because the ethnographic footage performs an increasing number of erratically. Order collapses, and the footage of the Masai swirls round in a dreamy distortion.
The international dimension of this movie, linking East Africa and the southern United States, relates it to the Pan-Africanist dimension of Négritude, displaying how these up to date shifting picture artists are additionally working towards resisting the imperial group of the world. The composite geographies in Harris’s Halimuhfack remind viewers that Négritude was propelled partly by the need for a reconnection between the African continent and its diasporas. Its aesthetic discombobulations and spatial collapse sidestep the colonial divisions that separated and dispersed Black peoples.
A consonant Black Internationalism can be mobilized in Dallas-born Ja’Tovia Gary’s video set up The Giverny Suite (2020). Using a collection of interviews she filmed in Harlem, New York, the work brings collectively Black girls from throughout the globe. The three-channel work cycles by footage, some shot by the artist and a few discovered, conjuring things like the artist’s time in Claude Monet’s gardens in northern France, Haiti within the aftermath of the U.S. invasion, and Diamond Reynolds’s livestream following the police homicide of her boyfriend, Philando Castile.
Gary’s shifting picture follow, like Harris’s, depends on recontextualizing photos, which not solely recollects Surrealist juxtapositions, but additionally serves as a software for portraying transnational solidarity throughout colonial borders. Gary and Harris each toy with photos which might be tactically misplaced to summon realities obscured by the normative grammar of dominant cinema, together with linear narrative order and coherent organizations of area. In the 6 minute An Ecstatic Experience (2015), Gary’s archival footage, accompanied by recordings of Black churchgoers and jazz composer Alice Coltrane’s instrumental “Journey in Satchidananda” (1971), is splotched with magenta and turquoise that Gary painted onto the celluloid by hand, yielding a phantasmic magnificence. Other scenes present actor Ruby Dee in a 1965 TV section, talking the phrases of the enslaved Black Southern lady Fannie Moore as she describes her mom’s rapturous eruption whereas working in a subject, declaring she had discovered a religious launch from slavery. In an ecstatic outpouring adopted by a choir singing, she cries, “I’m free! I’m free!” A scene through which Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur describes her 1979 escape from jail echoes this fervor. The movie’s montage brings this paragon of self-determined Black liberation (nonetheless a fugitive from her 1977 homicide conviction) into relation with protest footage from Ferguson and Baltimore. Gary reveals these distinct historic junctures as intimately sure.
In his canonical 1981 essay “On Repetition in Black Culture,” scholar James Snead characterised Black tradition’s transformative repetitions, through which “the thing (the ritual, the dance, the beat) is ‘there for you to pick it up when you come back to get it.’” He was alluding to the capacities of collective refashioning over time. It is on this spirit that these filmmakers revitalize Surrealism and Négritude, producing dynamic modes of encounter that honor the sooner actions’ commitments whereas responding to a plenitude of previous and current realities. These up to date filmmakers could be seen as a part of a continuum of disruptive Black cultural staff. Using the digital camera as their software, these artists, like their forebears, contest the presumption of a common “real” as a norm in opposition to which the “surreal” might be outlined. The hallucinatory representational areas these Black experimental filmmakers create emphatically insist on a multiplicity of realities—a few of which have to be made seen, a few of which finest stay hid.
Correction, 4/28/22, 2:00 p.m.: A earlier model of this text incorrectly acknowledged that Amiri Baraka coined the time period “Afrosurrealism” in 1988. He coined the time period “Afro-Surrealist Expressionism” in 1974.
This article seems within the April 2022 challenge, pp. 72–77.