INTERVIEW – MATATA
Your film is built around a female figure who never speaks and is the object of the gaze of others. Why did you want to study this figure’s trajectory?
I am from the Omúgóle Nande community, a matriarchal culture in which women are the pillars of both physical and spiritual life. For centuries, this heritage has been suppressed and distorted by Western colonial logic, which imposed patriarchy and gendered violence (among other things). In this story of re-birth and transformation, returning to feminine strength and wisdom is an obvious first step in escaping colonial logic.
As a counterpoint, you also create an elusive masculine figure, who expresses himself through dance. Who is this figure? What relationship does it have with the female figure?
There is one lens through which this figure, played by Dorine Mokha, could appear masculine. But there is another lens through which gender is irrelevant and this character, instead of being viewed as “male” or “female,” is a mythical, even divine figure. In the protagonist’s—and my own—effort to divest of colonial logic, what matters is not the question of gender, but rather the presence and purpose of those beings who are capable of guiding us through transformation.
Dance plays many roles in your film: liberation, break in everyday life, ethnographic document… Why this central place given to dance?
From the era in which our villages were raided for slaves through the era of colonialism to the present “postcolonial” era of capitalist “development” schemes, our ways for passing on history and knowledge have become corrupted. The only accurate mediums of information we have are our bodies. We quite literally carry our memories in our blood, in our bones, in our DNA. And dance is a portal to those memories. But dance plays many roles in life — there is omúkuluma, a dance to communicate with the dead, and there is also obusingiri, a dance for the dead — one connects us with the spirits of those who have gone before, the other recognizes what is no longer living. The same is true in the film, there are dances that connect us to the ancestors and the possibilities our bodies contain for the future, and there are dances that recognize that we are — and always have been — dead when perceived through the colonial gaze.
Images in your film are something to be recreated, but also bearers of history, and finally also something of a predatory practice. How do these different aspects of images fit in for you?
The question of image is a fundamental question of perception. In the pursuit of power, images have been calibrated to a specific set of priorities that have everything to do with domination but that are often confused with aesthetics. In the name of “uplift” and, more recently, “development,” a certain aesthetic has been imposed on my culture—we have been forced to see and to represent ourselves in ways that make sense to Western colonial logic. In so doing, we violate ourselves. Matata engages numerous possibilities—from violence to liberation—of image and representation in an effort to expose the motives behind aesthetic “norms” and to propose possibilities rooted in other sources of knowledge. I call this practice recoding aesthetics.
Could you tell us about this museum where the male dancer sits down the first time he is seen? What is it? Does it tell us anything about the relationship to History you seek to establish?
Like the church depicted later in the film, the museum is another institution that is presented as though it contains knowledge. But the value of such institutions is not universal. In fact, from some perspectives the knowledge imprisoned in such institutions is dead. And deadly. By contrast, the angel ushers the protagonist through a process of remembering the living history contained within the bodies of knowledge of which she is a part.
Matata has no words, but you have worked on the sound with great precision. How did you construct this sound track, and its articulation to the visual montage?
Like churches and museums, languages often function as institutions — as impediments to embodied knowledge. So in this film I refuse the violences embedded in language and translation. By contrast, the way I understand sound in film is as a character of its own. In Matata, sound plays the role of questioning the relationship between resources and history in Congo. The sound is comprised of natural elements—earth, air, fire, and water—that have been systemically exploited for more than a century. The entire soundscape was composed by sampling and manipulating the materials (rubber, wood, copper, volcanic stone, coltan, niobium) that were — and are — extracted from Congo to fuel the industrial revolution, the World Wars, the digital revolution, and now the robotics revolution. In this sense it is an invitation to hear colonial logic. But the narrative structure of Matata is based on the ancient culture of proverbs, which teaches us that every element has the potential to be both destructive and nurturing. Thus sound in this film is also an invitation to imagine a relationship between resources and history that values both human and natural life.
Interviewed by Nathan Letoré.