“Becoming and becoming and becoming”: Manthia Diawara on the porous borders of identity, nation, and art [Audio]

On February 2, 2019 The Block welcomed filmmaker and NYU Professor of Cinema Studies Manthia Diawara for a screening and conversation on his 2017 film An Opera of the World.

A world-renowned theorist of cultural hybridity, Manthia Diawara left Mali at the age of 19, emigrating to France and later to the United States. He returned to Mali in 2008 to film rehearsals for Bintou Were, a Sahel Opera, an opera that tells the story of northward migration. In An Opera of the World, Diawara frames his documentation of this moving performance between interviews (including discussions with filmmaker Alexander Kluge, novelist Fatou Diome and sociologist Nicole Lapierre), personal commentary, and archival footage that documents the cycles of migration throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The result is a cinematic essay as free-ranging, and as inspiring, as the borderless society he imagines.

From the Conversation

“Beyond the idea of just me being a Malian, you know, I can be multiple. Yes, Malian. And I’m very proud to be a Malian, but I’m also American. I’m also French. I can also become something else tomorrow, you know….I can change through my exchange with the other without losing or destroying myself. It’s becoming as opposed to being…becoming, and becoming and becoming. And this doesn’t mean that you have lost your identity at all.

You know, I am an optimist, an incurable optimist. I think that the current raring of the ugly head of xenophobia and racism of the other, I think it’s really a backlash against something that has rightfully taken its place in our modern lives. It is disturbing to Europeans, to Americans, to Africans, to everybody in the world, because they have stable identities and they see these identities being taken. But it is really too late. It’s too late.

Its not tenable to suddenly come back and say, OK, now let’s go back to what we were. It’s no longer possible. But I really think that we are better off now with tolerance. We were we are better off with changing, with exchanging among ourselves, with having several identities. The world has really changed. And I honestly think that it is probably is better for us.”

Listen Now

Personal Passages

The screening was part of the Block Cinema series Personal Passages: African Filmmakers in Europe, responding to The Block exhibitions Caravans of Gold and Isaac Julien: Western Union (Small Boats) through a series of films which illuminate 20th and 21st century migrant experiences across the Mediterranean. While dozens of films have been made by European filmmakers addressing the challenges faced by refugees and immigrants to Europe, the films in this series, made by Tunisian, Mauritanian and Malian emigré filmmakers, all provide more intimate perspectives on these experiences of displacement and diaspora.

Images From the Evening

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