“Using the archive against itself”- Onyeka Igwe and Bimbola Akinbola in conversation

In Winter 2021 the Block Museum hosted a discussion between UK filmmaker Onyeka Igwe and Professor Bimbola Akinbola of the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. The conversation was presented as part of the Block Cinema program The Loose Ends of Empire: Unforgetting Colonialism a screening of experimental film and audio-visual works from the UK. The Loose Ends of Empire was the second in a series of programs exploring the legacies and futures of Black British cinema, guest curated by Northwestern graduate students Madison Ivory Alan-Lee, Gervais Marsh, and Tyler Talbott.

The event was presented by The Block Museum of Art with support from the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the Department of Radio/Television/Film, Screen Cultures Program, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, and the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University.

Program Introduction: Madison Ivory Alan-Lee, Gervais Marsh, and Tyler Talbott.

The three of us are working as part of a unique partnership with the Center for Civic Engagement, Chicago Humanities Initiative, and the Block Museum to curate a year-long film series spotlighting contemporary and repertory films by Black British artists.- The series aims to bring together  artists, scholars, and activists to discuss the legacies of Black filmmaking traditions and activist practices of the 1980s and ’90s workshop era while also expanding towards a more global and cross-generational conversation.

For the second program in our series we are excited to present, “The Loose Ends of Empire: Unforgetting Colonialism.” After the screening there will be a conversation with Onyeka Igwe and Bimbola Akinbola.

Onyeka is a researcher, artist working between cinema and installation, and the filmmaker. She is based in London, UK. Onyeka is animated by the question, “How do we live together?” with particular interest in the ways the sensorial, spatiality and non-canonical ways of knowing can provide answers. She uses embodiment, voice, archives, narration, and text to create structural figure of eights, a format that exposes a multiplicity of narratives.

Onyeka will be joined in conversation by Bimbola Akinbola who is a scholar, visual artist, and assistant professor in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Professor Akinbola works at the intersection of  performance, visual culture, and literature. Her scholarly and creative work is concerned with conceptions of belonging and queer world-making in African diasporic cultural production. In addition to working on her first book manuscript Professor Akinbola has worked on a number of performance-based projects exploring blackness, memory, and erasure.

Onyeka Igwe and Bimbola Akinbola in discussion

I think, for me, the issue with archives is not so much that there exists narratives around history. It’s this legitimizing force the archive has, it enables particular stories to become the story of an event, bypassing lots of other ways, and lots of other narratives about that historical moment or event.

So I think what I want to offer is approaching, knowing, understanding, thinking through experiencing history. I try and use different kind of narrative devices and ways of knowing and visual kind of storytelling to tell one story. And so using the archive against itself. So I’m using these archival film clips to tell a folk tale of these two brothers. To me, that was an attempt to make the archive do something else, to tell another story.

Onyeka Igwe

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