• CNAP Award  
  • Flash Competition


Minia Biabiany

Minia Biabiany’s work (films, installations, sculptures) is informed by her experience as a Guadeloupean woman, she is unapologetic about her work being inseparable from her homeland. Here, water is the main element in her interlocked narratives, and the oceans form a common space carrying a memory that she questions, from her native Guadeloupe, a land marked by slavery and colonisation. The film is interspersed with statements, written directly on screen, and one of them fittingly reads that the sea “tastes like ancestors”. The sea there is steeped in History, like an Atlantique noir, to quote Paul Gilroy’s eloquent title. Minia Biabiany endeavours to celebrate the ghosts of that history. Thus unfolds this film-poem, in which perception and imagination “are one”. Without overstating anything, the director takes these paradoxes and make them the real subject of her film. She playfully inverts the normal order of things, truly or metaphorically, from top to bottom, from sounds to silence, from the visible to the invisible. Silence is the film’s primary and most striking component – the silence of the oceans, of the dead, of History. Stroke by stroke, Minia Biabiany outlines these various layers, through shots that exude a mute, enigmatic and sensory intensity. This stylistic device is only enhanced by a shift in viewpoint, with insects, plants and humans echoing each other in a common world. These connections are also at work in the magnificent chalk drawings on a blackboard, that seem to mirror the making of a kwi, a traditional cooking vessel. The structure of the film is anchored in its patchy fragments, in a game of echoes and transmission, so as to retrieve the “broken lines of history”. That thin thread is maintained when our gaze reaches beyond the visible, as the title suggests.
(Nicolas Feodoroff)

Interview with Minia Biabiany

Your work (films and installations) uses your experience and Guadeloupe to examine stories, history, and non-western knowledge and how it’s passed down. The Length of my Gaze at Night makes us think about the island of Guadeloupe and its history, and more globally, the Caribbean as an area scarred by the slave trade and slavery. What inspired this project?

The video The Length of my Gaze at Night was devised in connection with an installation of the same name presented at the Pinchuk Foundation in 2021, the main point of which was to look at how mental space – in other words our thinking and subconscious heritage – influences the way in which we travel across physical space. And the opposite too, how the context of our life influences our psychological space. What these spaces are inhabited by and why is a related question. In this video, I’m mainly interested in the back and forth between the two. I use phrases, images and metaphors that I gather before the edit to create a shared, mental dialogue.
The slave trade and the slave system on plantations are usually addressed with historical distance but the question of their influence on our lives today is extremely relevant and necessary. We’ve reached a new stage, with the chance to understand ourselves in light of these episodes of a lack of humanity and the total domination of one group over another. How does the black slave trade influence my relationship with water? How does the Atlantic Ocean feed my thinking? How does my body perceive this historic site in which I swim? What does it receive from it? And so on.
I work on how to describe, how to look afresh, how to perceive through other filters that don’t simplify anything at all.

In this context, your cinematic work is all about the power of (sometimes enigmatic) images. What does this approach represent for you? How did you go about editing?

The editing was finalised at the same time as the installation was set up. There’s no script, just a key question that I use as a mental framework and one or two cornerstone phrases around which I construct the video. For example, “the sea tastes of ancestors” is a quotation from Aimé Césaire – which came to me during the shoot while I was reading L’esclavage, quel impact sur la psychologie des populations? – and it became one of these cornerstone phrases. The shoot wasn’t continuous; it stretched over a year. I gathered potential moments without knowing exactly how the final video would be structured. As for the approach to images, most of them were shot where I live. The day-to-day elements are transformed when they’re observed slowly, especially in a context where two native languages name and observe the actions that tell the story.

Hence the presence of the text. How was its relationship to the images constructed?

The text encourages the viewer to call into question the thread of their ongoing comprehension. For me, that’s the power of the written word. Text and weaving are blended together in a lot of cultures. Reading Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other several years ago made me aware of the power of words and stories. I began to think about elements of comprehension in oral culture, and the role of silence and words. I then incorporated weaving into how the videos were edited. At the same time, I was looking for a weave that had been done in Guadeloupe that would serve as a support for a metaphor about the structure of narrative, and I became interested in how fish traps are woven from ti bwa and bamboo. I learned how to do it.

Hence the many chalk drawings that crop up throughout the film, some of them showing the making of a Kwi. How did they come about?

These chalk drawings are from preparatory sketches for the sculptures presented in the installation, drawn based on notes and mental images during lectures last year. They work as symbols.

We also see a hand (yours?) grasping petals and this same flower comes back several times. What does it represent?

The hand is manipulating small bones from fish heads, otoliths that give balance and have the same shape as the petals of the white alpinia, a common flower in Guadeloupe. The hand, or rather the actions of the hand are a kind of instruction, summaries of other actions presented differently in the video. The opacity allows me a poetic richness. It’s always said that Creole is a very colourful language and this imagination is important in these choices.

Apart from two bursts of noise, silence is the primary sound material. Why precisely at these moments?

Sound is like punctuation, it breaks a habit of vision. I don’t use sound in a reasoned way. These moments were chosen because during the video’s editing, at these precise moments, adding another unexpected layer reinforces an understanding of what’s been seen before or, on the contrary, adds an opacity that interests me.

What does the title mean to you?

I use the metaphor of the night because it’s a space that lends itself to reconfiguring our dominant perceptions. Our sensitivity is heightened, we interpret using different codes, and sound takes on greater importance, for example. Where I live, night awakens buried emotions. What interests me is how we perceive what’s around us and the comings and goings between conscious and unconscious thought, the body in motion and the context that welcomes and participates. The length or distance of a gaze at night is like an undefined measure, this other capacity to be receptive. “My gaze” states the “I” loud and clear.

Interview by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • CNAP Award  
  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2021 / Colour / 9’

Original version : english
Subtitles : french
Script : Minia Biabiany
Photography : Minia Biabiany
Editing : Minia Biabiany
Sound : Minia Biabiany

Production : Minia Biabiany.

Filmography :
learning from the white birds, 2021
musa, 2020
pawòl sé van, 2020
toli toli, 2018
blue spelling, 2016.