Filipa César, The Solid Image: Red Africa season at Calvert 22, London

Filipa César’s “essay-reading” The Solid Image – Notes on the ‘Luta ca caba inda’, live event, belongs to the intriguing Red Africa season* that accompanied the exhibition Things Fall Apart at Calvert 22. “Luta ca caba inda”, César’s choice of title for this live event, is a Creole expression meaning “the struggle is not over yet” and originally the title of an unfinished film from Bissau’s anti-colonial film archive. César explains the title’s significance as ‘cursing the accomplishment of the film, of the struggle and eventually of this project too’ [presumably the anti-colonial film project]. César and Guinean filmmakers also appropriated the title for a series of screening and discussion events to emphasise the fragmentary nature of Bissau’s film archive and to shed light on its conflicts. César’s wider practice is concerned with documentary and subjective perspectives, the relationship between images and public perception and the politics behind the moving image with a focus on decolonisation.

In this ‘essay-reading’ César performs the role of ‘cine-archaeologist’ presenting to her audience thirteen selected ‘findings’ from her digging in the ‘cine-archaeological site’ – the moving image archive in Bissau that César examined during her joint visit there in 2011 with pioneer Guinean filmmakers. She interprets these ‘findings’ through a stream-of-consciousness; a rapid sequence of thoughts describing several open-ended micro narratives with multiple interpretations.

César’s work questions the concept of what is considered a ‘solid image’ and encourages viewers to critically reflect on its validity in the particular historical and geo-political context of Guinea-Bissau. Finding No. 3 presents an excerpt of the four pioneer Guinean students who were sent to Cuba to become filmmakers (1967), working (voluntarily) in a field, cutting grass with a machete – to learn the value of humbleness and significance of connection to the soil. The footage clearly demonstrates the staged nature and propaganda of this ‘solid image’, highlighting the importance to socialist regimes of channelling communist ideology and teaching through filmmaking; its programmes and the use of filmmakers as potential socialisation agents.

Finding No. 9 is another attempt to show a ‘solid image’ of utopia. This footage of a Soviet film taken at the Artek Pioneer camp (no date) shows young Black and Soviet child-pioneers from three continents performing for the camera. They are seen walking, hugging and gladly taking off their red/multi-coloured multi-patterned triangular scarves, symbolically detaching themselves from affiliation to any nationality. Then all the scarves are flattened and laid on the ground edge to edge forming one large patchwork, representing friendship between peoples, conveying anti-nationalist and anti-racist messages. This film uncovers the Soviet Union’s hidden military and imperialist intentions.

The “solid images” in this live essay are discursive with the artist at times making random associations, for example in Finding No. 6 associating mosaic depictions of women with magical powers. Finding No. 8, Soviet film footage of the Kremlin cinema architecture (no date), simultaneously reveals César’s sequence of interpretations in relation to this space – “this opulent cinema is…a place for communing, for watching together, for reflection. A machine for political representation…of representation of representation.” Here, César shows through an interweaving of visual and oral imagery (the artist’s narrations) the Soviet origins and brainchild for the other film footage shown in her ‘essay-reading’.

César’s “essay-reading” meanders through film excerpts that emphasise different facets of Guinea-Bissau’s political struggle, liberation and the country’s cinematic, particularly anti-colonial, history. The latter unveils the noteworthy involvement of Chris Marker who spent significant time in this country working in collaboration with the pioneer Guinean filmmakers to help to build Bissau’s film institute.

The audience (including myself) was taken by the narrator’s (the artist’s) captivating journey, encountering a “kaleidoscope of imagery”, different subjective perspectives, political and cultural influences and protagonists in the local and international arena – referencing and raising awareness of Guinea-Bissau’s complex historical and national identity (e.g. the artist pointed out the absence of this significant audio-visual archival imagery from Guinea-Bissau’s official history books and school curriculum).

* The season presented historical and contemporary responses to the geopolitical and cultural connections between African nations and the Soviet Union and related countries during the Cold War.

Galit Mana

Things Fall Apart — Red Africa season ran from 4 Feburary – 3 April at Calvert 22, London.

1. Filipa César, Cacheu (2012). © Filipa César, Courtesy Cristina Guerra Contemporary and the artist.