Throughout postcolonial Africa and its Diaspora, women have emerged from the double oppression of patriarchy and colonialism. They have become the unsung heroines of artistic creation and cultural production. This major event has taken place everywhere: from Djibouti to Dakar, from Yaoundé to Cape Town.
Unfortunately these women have received very little attention. The great majority of their efforts remains invisible.
In focusing the cameras upon the work of six Sub-Saharan African women, Vibrancy of Silence : A Discussion with My Sisters, creates a visual and archive their work, their goals, their achievements, their hopes, their dreams and their struggles. As Michel Foucault says, the archive is the first law of the sayable—its absence is precisely that which renders invisible.
For the minority all production is a treasure trove, whether it involves books, thought or the visual arts. In a world in which “normal” still correspond to white, affluent, heterosexual men, representations of difference are rare and therefore precious.
This documentary emphasizes the necessity for diversifying knowledge as well as an appreciation of the creative acts of women on and beyond the Continent. Léopold Sédar Senghor (poet, writer and the former president of Senegal) and Ousmane Sembène (the Senegalese filmmaker) understood this a very long time ago; they maintained that women would be the ones to change Africa. But one must see them at work to believe it!
The archive created by this documentary is without precedent. It brings to light the immense artistic and cultural contributions of three generations of Sub-Saharan African women and, through interviews and presentations of their work, explores and interrogates culture, art and their destiny.
The archive focuses upon two facets of their work. First, the process of “self actualization.” To understand African modernity involves comparison with the “Colonial Library”: This is the work of revisiting concepts so as to improve self-understanding and the reappropriation of the self by the self. These women redefine and problematize prejudices about modernity, women and artistic production as they have been conceptualized thus far.
Marthe Djilo Kamga, Frieda Ekotto, Marie Laure Endale Ahanda aka Silex Silence, Marie-Geneviève Labarrière aka Zolan’Gono, Koyo Kouoh and Marie Sabal-Lecco aka Ajomo are all pioneers who have been marked by transnational experiences. Having chosen to live around the globe, they do not hesitate to appropriate the rich perspectives that result. Some live abroad; others develop in Africa. This movement nourishes their political engagement with questions related to genre, which is then is translated into their work, and which highlights emotional landscapes and a global setting.
The women underline, with utmost clarity, an interiority that is shaped by marginality, as well as trajectories marked by the absence of paths for them to follow in their self-development. At the same time, their artistic activities demonstrate that it is crucial to travel intellectually between multiple worlds, to be both here and there, and to
be conscious of how art both exposes and hides this duality.
In sum, the conversations and work of the women featured here forces us to realize that globalization has generated new possibilities for being. Individuals cannot be reduced to categories such as “exile,” “hybrid,” “creole,” or “diasporic.” They respond to the pressing need to question ourselves about the concept of “cultural expression,” as well as to the fact that we must never lose the thread of changing conditions that belong to us all, even
as we endlessly reevaluate antiquated epistemologies in the light of new critical approaches. Women make seminal contributions to African culture and history, which should never, for any reason, be interpreted as “his-story.” In short, just like the digital revolution of the contemporary world, these women are pushing beyond barriers.
Vibrancy of Silence : A Discussion with My Sisters is the first installment of my research project on Vibrancy of Silence : Archiving the Images and Cultural Production of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The University of Michigan