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The Cruelty of Imperialism
Ilpo Hirvonen from Finland
18 February 2011
"When men die, they become history. Once statues die, they become art.
This botany of death is what we call culture."
This smart opening line sets up high expectations for the viewer, and
the film succeeds in redeeming all of them. After seven months I saw
this film for the second time, this time on the big screen, and
therefore decided to write a brief review of the film, I so admire. The
film is an intelligent analysis of the cruelty by which imperialism has
destroyed the art of the original Africa. It was made by two French
masters to come - Alain Resnais (Hiroshima mon amour) and Chris Marker
(La jetee). Together they created a masterpiece which changed our way
of looking at Africa, due to which the film was instantly banned for
In the late 1940's India became independent and it was just a matter of
time when Europeans would get kicked out of Africa. Africa begun to
wake up. Before this documentary people had only experienced Africa
through imperialistic consciousness - Tarzan films were all the
material people had seen of the colony and Africa's own films were
still waiting to be made. The film was years ahead of its time,
depicting imperialism - the political, economical and cultural
exploitation of colonial possessions, and the European feeling of
superiority. Just as Jean Rouch's The Mad Masters (1954) so did this
documentary, about the art of indigenous peoples, get banned and
therefore is still quite unknown compared to another documentary by
Alain Resnais, about the legacy of WWII and concentration camps, Night
and Fog (1955).
The commentary track by Chris Marker leads us to the sacred world of
artifacts. But when they get cataloged and put behind museum showcases,
they die too. We are shown how original art gets destroyed, how the old
core values vanish. There is no sense in categorizing objects into art
in a world where everything is art, a kind of world which Africa here
represents. A man of the African community sees so much more in this
art - he sees the faces of culture, where all we see is external beauty
Statues Also Die is a film about racism and western thoughts of
superiority: "We look at Negro art just as it would gain its right to
exist after giving the pleasure to us." African art is full of soul and
beauty, filled with significance. But as Europeans steal it and take it
from their land to the cold museums, the art loses its meaning.
Europeans can only enjoy it aesthetically, they only see its external
side and not the essence of it. They adore this art and as demand grows
it turns into mass-production, trash - bazaar art.
Great art has been bought and spoiled, the black man was paid to sell
his soul, to turn his heritage, culture and life into a comedy.
Religious needs were replaced by commercial interests; "folklore,
sports and music." The black man was able to make fun of the white man
in the ring, or in a basketball game but after they won, they got
bashed and kicked in the name of racism. The role of the boxer or the
drummer, in the ring or in the orchestra, was born from the need to
return the strikes their brothers had taken from the white man in the
streets. White man enslaves the black man; an illustrating moment is
the picture where a white man is guiding a black man to make a bracelet
- white man has turned original African art into a portrait of himself.
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