White Africa, a video-animation
This video covers a historical context that ranges from the division of Africa during the Berlin-conferences in 1884-86 to present media realities.
The post-colonialism debate has had a critical look at the problem of the difference between the perspectives of the colonized and the colonist, as well as at the postcolonial situation. I am referring to this debate, because it has some thematic connections with "White Africa", especially concerning the importance of states (the arbitrariness of borders and their impact on many conflicts have been commented on quite often) and their relation to neo-colonialism. This video tries to find an approach to some African realities and the continent's parallel history with Europe by means that were accessible to me in Europe - such as books, films, radio, television, newspapers, magazines, stories, artworks and conversations with people from different African countries.
Signs and representations fill the 25 minutes; names of states are the framework for our orientation. A continent emerges and dissolves at the same time. It falls into partial aspects and units. The video uses simple, but time-consuming methods: paintings and drawings, photos and sounds, which are created by layering and montage. The writing, the abstract and shortened drawings, the hints of narration all compete with the photos and news, which in a way dominate the european view of the continent. This video is not just about Africa, it deals mostly with the continent's significance to Europe - as a concept, an association, a world or a news story.
The "decolonisation of the Europeans", as Sartre says in his preface to Fanons "Wretched of the earth", is a lengthy process.
The work process started with the names of states, typed by computer, as a first level of organisation, which could remind one of their membership in the United Nations, separated into English, French, Portuguese and Arabic-Swahili zones of languages. These written identities, glued on paper, were then supplemented by ink and brush comments on the countries (states), their presidents and histories in a subjective, abbreviated way.
During this phase of production my source of information was, to a certain extend, an encyclopaedia of African history, published in the GDR in 1983, with a special focus on revolutionary and independent movements, the modernisation after a socialist example, the affiliations to the blocks of the cold war and on modern, industrial everyday life.
This history of Africa refers to the times of independence and the utopias of sovereignty and solidarity, to great names like Kenyatta, Nyerere and Senghor. On the other hand the coup is a repeating phenomenon just like the implication (interference) of Europeans in the internal affairs of African states (key word: mineral resources).
Another book, that had an important influence on the content of this video, "Forgotten wars in Africa" deals with lesser known conflicts, which often lasted for decades and appear to me like repeated flashes on maps. Parties and political movements, involved in conflicts for years, are represented in the video by the initials of their names, by their abbreviations. A coup can be represented by minimal graphic strokes that are then deleted. It happened maybe sometime in the sixties, nobody seems to be really interested, and yet the event is visually represented, a small part of this postcolonial history, individually written by hand. The pretensions of reality those written assertions lay claim to, are qualified by the handmade, the irregular and improvised.
"News rules the world and informs our views of and approach to cultures"
(W. Davis about "White Africa" in the catalogue of the 4th Ethno-film-festival, 1999 in Berlin).
During the production of "White Africa" events and reports from Africa came along in such a massive way, that they had a lasting influence on the orientation of the video. It may be a fluke of history, but it had its impact on the development of the project. In 1994 the genocide in Rwanda focussed public attention on what was happening in Central-Africa. The following events were unlike any of the well-known news items about little, obscure coups or long-running conflicts like Angola or Sudan. Great parts of Central-Africa were turned into a permanent battlefield: the fall of Mobutu and rise of Kabila, a year later Rwanda and Uganda invading the east of Congo, civil-war in Congo-Brazzaville in 1997 (implication of Elf Aquitaine), years of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea:
all these often chaotic political upheavals, as well as smaller events the global public was paying less attention to, are reflected in the video.
In the case of "White Africa" the cartographic situation and the logic of an imagined but possible journey through different levels of time and space were fundamental. The constant updates these cartographic schemes had to absorb, were part of the production process.
The video has been shown in various edits in galleries, exhibitions, the Africa House, Berlin, (together with "Free Africa!" by Martin Baer), the "long night of open museums" at the ethnological museum in Berlin-Dahlem and the 4th Ethno-film-festival 1999.
Former projects, that have led to "White Africa"
My personal occupation with african topics goes back to 1993, when I made a video about the so called African District in Berlin-Wedding. In those days, the daily encounters with the names of African countries and regions and German colonists on street signs aroused my curiosity and intensified my already existing fascination and interest in African histories and cultures. On the other hand a growing presence of African people in this district was to be noted.
A text, written by the German Hans Seligo, who had travelled Africa in the 30ties, was a further piece in this little puzzle. He was still convinced European cultures could bring progress to Africa, although he criticized the colonial excesses. He did so in a less effective and more naïve way than Roger Casement when he started his crusade against the situation in the Congo of Leopold. Seligo still believed, that Africa was a continent destined for the emigration of Europeans. Meanwhile a look at the streets of the African district in Berlin and the general tendencies of migration were proving the contrary. Excerpts from his texts, shots of the district and its street signs, combined with animations constituted this video, called "Kin-Topp in Afrika".
The maps used in this video focussed mainly on the former German colonies, that were named on the street signs in the African district, one of the rare leftovers of German colonialism in public spaces in Germany.
The next step was the exhibition "Afrikarten" (African maps) realized in January 1995 in a gallery. The show included lino-pictures, composed of linocut-maps of 22 black-African countries. The maps included names of rivers, but neither names of towns nor of states.
In March 1996 the work on "White Africa" started and it was finished in November 1999.
The animation-sequences were shot in Super8-film; the video was edited digitally at the Institute for time-based media at the HdK (Art-High-School) Berlin.
Master: Beta SP, 25 minutes, color, stereo.
Text by Jakob Kirchheim, translation by Anna Kirchheim (BBC, London)