We Live in Silence (2017) is the final installment in a three-part series, which brings to full circle the photographic work begun with Revelations in 2011. Although it was created at a later date, chronologically, the series begins with Genesis [Je n’isi isi] (2016) as a prelude to Revelations (2011). We Live in Silence takes its lead from the previous two series in an attempt to offer a conclusion, while also exploring what was not resolved in Genesis and Revelations.
Med Hondo’s 1967 film Soleil O provides a suitable entry point. The film explores diverse narratives on race and colonization, weaving an intersecting story that positions race and colonization at the center of a story about migration, with white supremacy, religion and the post-colony as the subtext. This final series attempts to dissect the film through similitude (quality or state of being similar to something), while shifting the story of the central protagonist to embody the complexities of race, gender, colonization and the post-colony. In this series of photographs and video works, the central figure becomes the colonizer and liberator, laborer and migrant. He embodies the post-colony leader. He is also symbolic of the converts who evangelized on behalf of the missionaries, promising eternal salvation. Perhaps another consideration which is similar to similitude is addressed by Mudimbe:
“The African project of succession also designates this same configuration of its locus of creativity. In effect in the early 1960's, the African scholar succeeded the anthropologist, the 'Native” theologian replaced the missionary and the politician to the place of the Colonial Commissioner.”
What succeeded does appear to be synchronized with the post-colony, and hence the appearance of similitude. This also refers back to part of the Genesis narrative of creating colonial futures that align with the Empire narrative.
Med Hondo’s film holds a singular gender narrative from the perspective of a black man as the victim of colonization and the liberator of the post-colony, negating the role of women in the liberating process. The Canonization of the black man as liberator is also found in the final sequence of the film, concluding the heroism and intellectual capacity of black men, cementing their role in the life of the central character of the film. It is apparent that while Mudimbe speaks about the 1960's succession, it was also period where a number of African countries gained independence. We Live in Silence overthrows this notion in an attempted gender Coups D’état, reversing what has been selective “erasures and foreclosures”, expressed by Angela Davis at the 17th Annual Steve Biko lecture in 2016.
This departure from the original narrative intentionally presents the ideas which distinguish between past, present and future as non-linear, bringing to focus a trans-generational meeting point. The narratives of the first two series find space and relevance in the third. The films, photographs and soundscape propose a re-examination of the post-colony initially proposed by the liberal white character central to Med Hondo's film; in a central dialogue in the film he voices the following:
“It’s crucial to be able to select individuals capable of speaking as we do, capable of thinking as we do, capable of retaining, of absorbing, yes absorbing words as we do and above all giving them the same meaning, and so there'll soon be millions of white-washed blacks, white-washed and economically enslaved.”
This perspective from the character underpins the film’s narrative, and underscores the cultural and physical disarmament that gives way to repurposing African migrant men as laborers. Secondly, the process he mentions, apart from being disarmament, also ferments ethnographic refusal (denying the people their agency through historical or textual misinterpretation) as the selected people are supposed to think like he does, speak like he does and understand words with the same the meaning. Their agency is denied and a new order and hierarchy of knowledge is created. “So there'll soon be millions of white-washed blacks”, thus enshrines the colonial futures.
Maybe we still worship at the altar of the colonial shrine bewitched by the Empire, making offerings in the form of bodies for labor, watched over by the new priest, once hailed as the Colonial commissioner and now known as the African head of state.