Tear My Bra, a Nollywood Exhibition for Africa POP at Rencontres d’Arles

Alithnayn Abdulkareem

At its simplest, “Tear My Bra” carries no hindsight or foreshadowing. It doesn’t even attempt to reflect the Nigerian film environment. It just takes Nollywood, filmmaking in an African context, takes it a little bit apart and presents it to an audience largely unfamiliar with the product.

antoine-tempe-blow-up-dakar-2013-projet-re-mixing-hollywood
Antoine Tempé, Blow Up, Dakar, 2013, projet (re-)Mixing Hollywood.

 

Holly Gollightly waits at the train station at Arles, France. She sits with her face in full view, same jet black updo and bangs, cigarette a few inches from her trademark smile. It’s a remarkable picture even at the most basic face value, absent the photographer’s motives and ensuing cultural implications. Photo credit goes to Antoine Temp, one half of the collaboration between himself and Omar Victor Diop, part of the series being exhibited only a few feet away as part of the Africa POP display at Rencontres d’Arles.

The series titled “Re-mixing Hollywood” is less of a reimagining and more of a simple retelling of iconic mainstream Hollywood movies, an industry that has continuously received criticism for being exclusionary to non-white individuals. It is a criticism that spreads beyond filmmaking, which gives the series a universal relatability. There are instantly recognizable photographs. Black Thelma and Louise, Black Mia Wallace, and a Black Neo in his famous bullet-dodging-bend backwards.

Part of this year’s Africa Pop exhibit, the titular “Tear my Bra” is taken directly from a movie title in reference to Nigeria’s world famous film industry, which is one of the big three (Nollywood, Hollywood, Bollywood) in terms of revenue and output. “Tear My Bra” features work all covering the topic of film, its production process, cultural value, emotional impact, and an exploration of archetypal African characters.

The series titled “Re-mixing Hollywood” is less of a reimagining and more of a simple retelling of iconic mainstream Hollywood movies, an industry that has continuously received criticism for being exclusionary to non-white individuals.

Zina Saro Wiwa features a performance video that draws on the consistent Nollywood character of the grieving wife. In movies, they are often displayed as signifiers of pain and loss, too often their grief presented as bigger than any of their individual characters. Zina, in her project, has women sit in front of a camera. As an audience, we only see their faces, they are encouraged to weep, sans script or visible direction. We watch them shift tones, from slight discomfort to full tears. Some of them eventually stop crying and start laughing, a perfectly rational response to sadness. Surprisingly, this kind of scattered emotional transition is absent from so many Nollywood films. In Nollywood, the logic follows thus: women roll on the ground, scream, shout, weep, and are carried or dragged away for further punishment. No questions or responses beyond a throng carrying faces of accompanying sadness. True, all these reactions are perfectly justified, but one can’t help but ask if this is the only way to grieve for loss.

Andrew Esiebo presents a documentary series on the industry from within. Nollywood in motion— the giant informal machine that runs on makeshift time and passion. There are stills of actresses talking to directors, small sets and smaller cameras in day and night. Also, African movie stars Aki and Paw Paw, little people who have made a name for themselves, are playing naughty children.

There is a fan-like tapestry, created by Ike Ude, made out of Nollywood cut-outs featuring characters in exaggerated expressions wearing ridiculous titles such as “not with my husband”, “Spidergirl”, “blackberry babes”, etc. A few feet away are posters, placed in rows of five beneath themselves. Just at the entrance of the exhibition, these posters are going for sale at 5 euros each. At the current exchange rate, these would go for 2000 naira. In Nigeria, these would sell for less than 1 euro. Online, among Nigerians, they would sell for less, existing as target practice for ridicule, jokes, laughter, and a little embarrassment.

There are obvious nuances like the aforementioned duo of Tempe and Diop, Zina’s work, and The Plantation Boy series by Uche Okpa Iroha, where the photographer digitally inserts himself into scenes from Coppola’s classic The Godfather. One could insist on parallels between that and Tempe and Diof’s work but the similarities are at best the presentation of some of the works in Black and White. The Plantation Boy is more stubborn in its insistence of re-contextualizing film history. Even the images featured are tense and powerful clips.

At its simplest, “Tear My Bra” carries no hindsight or foreshadowing. It doesn’t even attempt to reflect the Nigerian film environment. It just takes Nollywood, filmmaking in an African context, takes it a little bit apart and presents it to an audience largely unfamiliar with the product.

 

Alithnayn Abdulkareem is a diplomat in training and writer. She writes mostly fiction and cultural criticism. She was a part of the Farafina 2015 workshop and a finalist for The Writer 2016.

 

 

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