Independence: A Psychology of Transition
By Serubiri Moses
‘Je prends la parole,’ or ‘I rise,’ implies assertiveness as opposed to reticence. It implies rather than declares. It does not “declare” anything. It simply explores the possibility of ‘what if.’ The world of the video then becomes a world of possibility. It is contextualized with a quote from ‘Cahier d’un retour au pays natal,’ by Aimé Césaire. It is taken from the same stanza ending:
‘Beware of crossing your arms over your chest in the sterile pose of a spectator, because life is not a spectacle, a sea of pain is not a proscenium, and a screaming man is not a dancing bear.’
The sense of reticence in the poem—of this specific line—speaks about the silence of the subject of the poem. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who quotes this line in his feature film, A Screaming Man, forms a drama based on the what if’s of silence: on possibility rather than on “declarations.” Here, I also quote the subject matter of the exhibition, Voyage of (Re)Discovery, being ‘independence’ and ‘freedom.’ I rephrase: ‘A screaming man is not a dancing bear’ positions its viewer in the psychology of transition. It makes Independence seem far from the ‘declaration’ it has come to be as written, or represented, in history.
In this way, the moving image, Je prends la parole, explores the psychology of transition, as a story of Independence. Through a set of emotions the character in the film transitions from reticence to discovery. This is a change in the plot.
From the very beginning, this character is seen to be experiencing a certain form of agony. Really, the character is seen to be trapped in darkness. This is shown by the minimal form of lighting that forms an outline rather than shades his face entirely. This light does not fully reveal them.
There is, also, the close frame that exposes the character’s emotions, shown through the dancer’s facial expressions. Specifically, this point of view, which is a profile, or side-portrait, accentuates the nature of light as an illumination. More specifically, the performance is controlled by the movement of light, and it is, therefore, as if the character is pulled to consciousness: the dancer pulled to light.
In the transition, the character enacts the emotion set by their entrapment. They further experience a heightened sense of trauma. This is shown by the activated, and agitated arm, and upper body movements. This continues until a Reversal of the Situation. As Aristotle’s Peripeteia, it is defined as a form of recognition, subject to probability or necessity. This form of recognition implies a change from ignorance to knowledge.
In the transition, from emotions of reticence, something suddenly occurs within the character’s mind. It could be a radical realization. It causes them to laugh, their teeth illuminated by the light. His raising of the neck and fist, perhaps, is a form of ecstasy. The fire that continually flashes, and leads to the climax of the film is not only a form of illumination. It is part of my own formation of the image, or of the photograph. He constructs, here, the image with the fire, as a kind of process of ‘painting with light’ as well as a physical installation. During the making of the moving image, the fire made in an open setting, attracted a number of people, who each, though invisible, became part of the action, or the event.
Fire, this ephemeral part of the artwork, is a social, cultural, and traditional, way of communicating. Like the title, Je prends la parole, it is essentially a form of speech. This illumination, and fire, is therefore a physical, though ephemeral, reminder of the social, and national, conscious. The character’s transition from feelings of reticence to those of ecstasy can, likewise, be contextualized within the larger framework of historical (and national) transitions: from pre-colonial to colonial; from the early to late colonial; from the late colonial to Independence; from Independence to the postcolonial; from the postcolonial to disillusionment, and so on, and so forth. By forming a retrospective and largely introspective work, I invite the viewer to reconsider the emotions of transition, and by doing so to (re)discover the possibility of Independence.
Serubiri Moses is an independent art writer, photographer, and curator. His interests lie in coloniality, language, and politics of urban space. His research experience has been through writing essays and academic papers on contemporary art and culture, published in different magazines, and books; as well as through curating exhibitions and panel discussions. He holds a Higher Diploma in Software Engineering (2013), and a Diploma of Photography (2009). His research includes, ‘Life mu City’ (2014), a research project on urban language in Kampala, presented at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala; the biennial contemporary art festival, KLA ART 014 (2014) looking at sociological studies on urban mapping and social classification in Uganda’s cities; as a research intern for C& (Contemporary And) magazine in 2014, he produced biographical notes on contemporary artists, collectors, institutions, and curators from Africa and its diaspora. Moses was selected to participate in Minga Exploring Utopia, a project by Arts Collaboratory focusing on interpretations of utopia in the Global South. Currently, he is researching the religious drawings of British painter and educator Cecil Todd of the Uganda Martyrs, for the 2015 NYU conference, Black Portraiture(s), in Florence, Italy.