African Art in London

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Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc / Sarah Maldoror @ Gasworks

Still from the film shoot of Guns for Banta (1970) - Sarah Maldoror

Foreword to Guns for Banta is an exhibition in London by an artist from French Guiana who lives in Paris about a film set in Guinea-Bissau by a French filmmaker originally from Guadeloupe who studied in the Soviet Union that never got made. Right.

Tempting though it might be to give up when confronted with such a tangle, it’s worth persevering a bit, if only because the show promises to explore the ‘afterlife of the militant image’, which sounds interesting. What kinds of images are militant? Do we need militant images these days, and if so, where? How can they have afterlives? Can they be stolen, or borrowed, or re-purposed?

The project really falls into two parts. The first part is a film by Guadeloupean filmmaker Sarah Maldoror, Guns for Banta (1970), which never made it out of the editing suite. Maldoror studied film in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and on her return to Africa, spent much of the 1960s living in Algeria and working on films like Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) and her own Monangambee (1970). Shortly afterwards, she received funding from the Algerian government to make Guns for Banta, and shot footage in Guinea-Bissau, in the midst of the independence struggle against the Portuguese authorities. But when Maldoror demanded full control over the editing, support was withdrawn and the film reels confiscated. They have never been recovered, and all that remains of the film are photographs taken on the shoot, and the memories of the director.

Which leads us to the second part of the story –  French-Guianese artist Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, and his show Foreword to Guns for Banta (2010), which opens at Gasworks on Friday. Through a combination of archival research, interviews with Maldoror, a diaporama, public screenings and events, Abonnenc revisits the story of Guns for Banta, unearthing the convoluted history of anti-colonial struggles in West Africa that inspired Maldoror’s film and ultimately brought about its demise. The artist’s aim is to think about how we can reanimate the spirit of the 60’s liberation movements in Africa – a timely goal, given recent and current events.

As always at Gasworks, there’s a programme of accompanying events, which provide an opportunity to see some of Maldoror’s completed films on the big screen and ask her questions at the following Q&A, as well as a chance to find out more about Maldoror and her African filmmaking peers in the Soviet Union. More info can be found here.

The show continues until 17th April.

Opening hours:
Wed-Sun, 12-6

155 Vauxhall Street, London
SE11 5RH