Not Sorry #1: Heritage – May 10, 2019
Anthology Film Archives
New York, New York
The ways in which national power structures have shaped perceptions of the feminine and have historically included (or rather, excluded) women is not universal. One’s ability to interpret legacy or history can depend on class, access, nationality, and race. Equally, how women filmmakers experiment with media to examine either their own ancestral origins or highlight larger historical omissions is varied and framed by those lenses, as well as by individual experience. Under a general theme of heritage, this program brings together works like British-Nigerian Ngozi Onwurah’s seminal COFFEE COLOURED CHILDREN, exploring in semi-autobiographical fashion the internalized effects of racism on mixed-raced children; Greenlandic-Danish artist Pia Arke’s simultaneous mourning and reclamation of Greenlandic Inuit land and the female Inuit body in ARCTIC HYSTERIA; Hermine Freed’s ART HERSTORY, a playful restaging of the European art history canon in which the female looks back; and Ja’Tovia Gary’s challenge to the privilege of artistic contemplation through her intervention into the history of aesthetics from the experience of being black (and female) in America in GIVERNY I (NÉGRESSE IMPÉRIALE).
Ngozi Onwurah COFFEE COLOURED CHILDREN (Nigeria/UK, 1988, 15 min, 16mm. Preserved by the Academy Film Archive.)
Nigerian-born British-raised Ngozi Onwurah’s early autobiographical film deals with the experience of racism, and the desire for whiteness it can engender. The film’s soundtrack provides an ironic counterpoint to its subject matter—songs like, “What we need is a big melting pot,” celebrate a multiracial world whose premise Onwurah critiques using her own experiences of racism. Children’s rhymes like “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” become insidious in this context. But the film ends on a note of hope: the filmmaker as narrator vows to give her unborn daughter a life of pride and dignity.
Sanja Iveković PERSONAL CUTS (Yugoslavia, 1982, 3 min, video)
In PERSONAL CUTS (Osobni rezovi), Sanja Iveković intercuts archival footage from socialist Yugoslvia with a close-up of her face covered in hosiery, which she slowly cuts into with each cinematic cut. Each cut links the political to the personal, connecting public representations of socialist life with the intimacy of the artist’s face, defamiliarizing the archival images in the process.
Pia Arke ARCTIC HYSTERIA (Greenland/Denmark, 1999, 6 min, digital)
The term ‘Arctic Hysteria,’ or Pibloktoq, was coined in the early 20th century following US explorer Robert Peary’s expeditions to the Arctic and his unreliable accounts of Inuit women suffering fits of rage, irrational behavior, and insensitivity to cold. In her performance Arctic Hysteria, artist Pia Arke reclaims land, body, and rage in lo-fi video to attempt a postcolonial symbology of the Arctic as well as a visceral expression of her own term ‘ethno-aesthetics,’ describing how she felt “trapped as a Greenlandic-Danish artist expected to recycle visual clichés associated with ‘Eskimo’ culture.” Arke made the enlarged landscape photograph featured in the video using a camera obscura she hand-built and that she herself could fit into. To create the images she would spend the sometimes 15 to 30 minute exposure time inside the camera manipulating the light and therefore shading and subtly imprinting the landscapes with her own body. While the concept ‘Arctic Hysteria’ has been refuted and largely faded into obscurity, the term only finally disappeared from the psychiatric tome Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2014.
Gloria Camiruaga POPSICLES (Chile, 1984, 4.5 min, video)
This work is an interaction of the space, the symbols and the historical context in which I live as a woman on this side of the continent. It is a rosary of alarm, eternal and circular; the alarm of a woman who desires life, light, truth, and solidarity, but who instead sees and receives death and fear. It is a rejection of all that is destruction, and death, yet is depicted almost attractively as innocence. —Gloria Camiruaga
POPSICLES was produced during the height of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, which brought authoritarian military control to the nation between 1973 and 1990. The titular popsicles with little plastic soldiers frozen inside, are shown being enjoyed by Camiruaga’s own daughters who chant “Hail Mary” between licks.
Kelly Egan ATHYRIUM FILIX-FEMINA (Canada, 2016, 4 min, 35mm)
The second in a series of ‘quilt films,’ the 35mm short combines aspects of structural filmmaking and process-based techniques to pay homage to English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, whose founding text, “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions,” was published in 1843.
I made the cyanotype emulsion from scratch using Atkin’s original cyanotype recipe from 1842. I coated the clear leader, exposed the film to sun (sometimes for an excess of 2 hours) and processed the film by hand in order to make this one print/quilt. The images are a combination of photograms of plants (an homage to Atkins botanical images) and direct prints of found footage (that tells the story of a young girl tormented by a gang of bullies and an imprisoned spider). —Kelly Egan
Hermine Freed ART HERSTORY (U.S., 1974, 22 min, video)
Hermine Freed’s ART HERSTORY is a humorous look at women’s exclusion from the art world, except, of course, as models. Made on video, Freed uses television studio technology to place herself directly into the position of various iconic female subjects in the history of art. Her comical commentary as she sits in the position of the Madonna and of classical nudes draws attention to the historical (and continued) exclusion of women from the art world and invites the viewer to imaginatively engage with the silent faces of the women whose images make up the canon of painting.
Ja’Tovia Gary GIVERNY I (NÉGRESSE IMPÉRIALE) (U.S., 2017, 6 min, digital)
Ja’Tovia Gary’s most recent short work is a challenge to the privilege of artistic contemplation through her intervention into the history of aesthetics from the experience of being black (and female) in America. The filmic collage—a style that follows from her previous work—links staged images of Gary herself in the privileged and pastoral landscape of Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France (where she was participating in a residency) and the Facebook livestream video of the murder of Philando Castile as recorded by his fiancée Diamond Reynolds (both occurring in July 2016), illustrating vulnerability while simultaneously asserting an oppositional gaze.
I was at a residency in Giverny when the murders of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida happened. I’m in this garden in northern France, in the lap of fucking luxury, losing it a little, no shade. I’m the only Black person there. I was feeling my own body’s vulnerability. When people ask me what this is about, I say it’s about Black women’s bodily integrity, or the lack thereof. —Ja’Tovia Gary
Onyeka Igwe WE NEED NEW NAMES (UK, 2015, 14 min, digital)
A graphically and politically complex non-fiction work, WE NEED NEW NAMES seeks to uncover the often contradictory, multiple narratives of the contemporary Nigerian diasporic identity, through body, place, and memory.
Using the personal archive of my grandmother’s funeral DVD to explore the concepts of identity, Diaspora, cultural memory and most importantly ‘fiction’ that I have been trying to settle into an essay video work. How can we as artists challenge the western simplification and belittling of black history through auto-ethnographic practices and new media? —Onyeka Igwe