A story has no beginning or end *
I was standing in the kitchen when ten sailors came into my restaurant. I saw them through the little hole in the swinging doors. The cramped restaurant was already full of eating guests but these men were not strangers. They shouted my name and one of them slapped me on my behind. I hate that. Had he not been my friend I would have thrown him out immediately. That's the sort of woman I was. I made sure they got a table for themselves and proceeded to take their order. There was something very special about my sailors. I remember walking around the table serving them hot pasta out of a large pot. I leaned way over their plates so that for a brief moment they would disappear into my deep cleavage. I was admittedly the Whore, but also their Mother and a Sister. There was no doubt that I wished them well but my thoughts revolved around revenge.
It was a wonderful evening. Discussion and quarrel surged between tables, candles melt into rivers, there were loud and boisterous toasts and someone sang, someone danced... I held their warm hearts close to the fire all night. Suddenly I heard myself say "It's time". And just as quickly as a scene changes in a dream, I understood why this restaurant had been opened. I grasped the decor that surrounded us, of overfilled ashtrays, steamy windows, wax stains and leftover food. I understood why the noise from the street had ceased and why the room so suddenly became empty of strangers. The men waited for a sign from me. I sat down. "You start. Tell me your stories."
When memory was regained things were different: The colorblind and nameless restaurant of my dream had faded. I was in Milan. We were a small group of invited photographers that had been discovered in Bamako during the 4th Encounters of African Photography. The name of the exhibition was "Made in Africa" and our photographs were hung in a large space decorated with African textiles. The exhibition opening was accompanied by African rhythms streaming from small speakers hung from the ceiling. A TV team placed me in front of my photographs and asked: "If I say "Africa" what is the first thing that comes to your mind?" I am afraid I gave the wrong answer. Our so-called "universal language" exposed an obvious disability. But hey, we were in Milan, we were together and surrounded by love. Two of us were on a honeymoon and one of us was pregnant. None of us were planning a revolution. A few hours later we had a room almost all to ourselves at a restaurant downtown. Our generous host made sure that a never-ending stream of national delicacies was presented at our table. I remember feeling excellent and I think I was flirting with the waiter. It was a wonderful evening. Suddenly it all came back to me. I remembered my dream, the pasta, a deep cleavage, ten sailors and all those stories...
A few weeks later I organized a dinner party in my studio: Eight black men are sitting around a circular table with a camera placed in the middle, it slowly circulates. The men have just enjoyed an excellent dinner. One after the other, they tell these stories about white women...
...that's a long story you know. Because the black man's dream, all his life, is to fuck a blonde. To go to bed with a white woman. It doesn't matter if she's a Swede, an Italian or American or whatever...
- You are generalizing! No! Not all black men. There are some black men who doesn't want to have...
- I agree with you. You should never generalize. There are always exceptions.
-Yes, mm... one out of hundred.**
Caught between reverie and reality, moving within a minefield of prejudice, preconceived ideas and cliches. It is undoubtedly a relief for most people who see this film that the filmmaker is a female mulatto. But I am not only woman and half-breed; I also belong to the group of people that cannot think clearly. When I attended grade school we learned that people on the average only use 5% of their brain capacity. It always surprised me how those in my surroundings received this information; with equanimity and indifference. For me this piece of information has had obvious consequences. Early on I became inclined to follow my intuition going against my better judgment because somewhere in my teen years I assumed that this "better judgment" was represented by this pathetic 5%. I have spent years experimenting with abstract expressionist actions and painting, focusing on the vast and silent majority of my brain. In the end I developed a skeptical attitude, in particular towards my own convictions.
This time we are in Zurich. The name of the exhibition is "the African Exile Museum" and there are no African textiles hung between each piece, no provenance I have to represent. Still, there is a confusion that refuses to die. Humans feel at home in a world that can be explained, even if on weak premises. However she becomes a stranger to existence if it suddenly is stripped of all illusion and solid ground. This exile is without possible return, because it does not hold any memories from an abandoned home nor any hope of a promise land. This gap between the human and her life, between the actor and the scenery, is the cause of the feeling of the absurd.***
* Graham Green, The End of the Affair, 1951
** Dialogue, White Women, 2002
*** Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942