Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Colonial Visual Archives and the Anti-Documentary Perspective in Africa: Notes on Jean-Marie Teno's Films

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Colonial Visual Archives and the Anti-Documentary Perspective in Africa: Notes on Jean-Marie Teno's Films

Article excerpt

This paper gives evidence that visual documentation is not simply collections of images and sounds. During the colonization of Africa, conventional Western documentaries were integral to the culture of racism and impunity featuring Africans as props for a monumental construction of knowledge and iconography fuelled by so-called African racial and cultural inferiority. The pregnancy of this propaganda is still felt in contemporary Africa in terms of continental self-image, self-esteem, and life chances because these colonial documentaries had become a powerful cultural archive constricting the range of African representation and opportunities to negative clichés. Accordingly, as Jean-Marie Teno claims in Africa, I Will Fleece You (1992), one of the greatest victories of colonization was "cultural genocide" for the ways in which the local culture was erased by the colonial cultural machines sticking Africans into the purgatory of the gods of colonialism, condemning them as perpetual peripheral characters in the construction of their own history, identity, and salvation. As a result, a real and genuine African work of colonial healing, selfrespect, and dignity is a condition sine qua non for a real ascetic process of genuine cultural liberation.

Considering documentary as archives, within this context, highlights the importance of justice to emphasize the Aristotelian premise that ethical principles require universal validity and application that cannot easily be buried by political expediency or provincial prejudice. For that matter, ethics in documentary stands to rupture with the naïve notion of objectivity in order to confront the complex notion that documentary making is not immune from the compromises of power and, thus, can become quickly deficient in ethics. Ethics, within this context, is not simply a matter of abstraction. The work of documentary conjures a symbolic order with social and political implications; therefore, the documentarian is to be conscious of the influence of ideology, objectivity, and self-interest in visual documentation.1 In the work of Teno, it means the extent to which it is impossible to think about contemporary Africa and its struggle for democratic development while neglecting the power and legacy of centuries of Western cultural engineering in which Africans were used as props for colonial propaganda, the injustices that derived from this colonial symbolic order and the impact of its continuous imbrications in the daily life of ordinary Africans. These processes put real constraints on cultural decolonization.

This work, consequently, relies on Teno and the "anti-documentary" perspective which highlights how the former colonized are taking advantage of the tools and techniques of the documentary to interrogate processes in which they were documented, produced, humiliated, and alienated by the colonizers and the ethical necessity to answer back and express a more legitimate representation of blackness in terms of history, memory, and indigenous democratic cultural and political codes to midwife new ways of being and new ways of seeing. In short, it means for Africans to reclaim the power to reenter their own history that had been choked up by the colonial experience. Anti-documentary perspective, therefore, is an ethical action from filmmakers of former colonies emphasizing the importance of decolonizing images in order to evacuate the colonial cultural matrix beginning by changing the gaze over Black history and the Black body for real cultural liberation and development which is the object of Teno's documentaries. Thus, this is a work with a clear eye on redeeming the humanity of Africans long denied by the colonial experience.

Considering the "Anti-documentary," finally, is to complicate the simple ethic that there are bad people on one side and good people on the other and to challenge the notion that "Anti-documentary" is simply a work of auto-flagellation, distress, historical grudges, and political naïveté. …

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