15.2 / NoirBLUE / Janaína Oliveira

Black One Shot stages brevity and precision in response to the art of blackness, contemporary and/or prescient. At 1000 words a pop, these pieces divest from academic respectability to inhabit the speculative, ambivalent, irreconcilable ways of black forms, and move through the fires this time. Seditiously, we are object forward, conjuring up the necessary intimacy generated between a critic and their object and keyed to the channels and frequencies of blackness. We hold fast to the given/taken works, the cultural productions without reduction, the condition of knowing all-too-well, and the imagining of something otherwise. Object love in the time of pandemics and insurrections. 

b.O.s. will run the course of summer 2020, come what may. We invite you to follow and share hard. Thanks to all the contributors and special thanks to Abram Foley, Aurelie Matheron, and Irenae Aigbedion of ASAP/J.

– Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie (Editors)

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“It is so black that it is blue,” is a racist expression that is widely known and still, unfortunately, sometimes echoed in Brazilian daily life. This provocation is contained in the title of Ana Pi’s NoirBLUE:  Displacements of a Dance (2018). The film is based on the dancer-director’s travel diary written while in Africa that was transformed into a solo dance and later into the short film. Born from the desire to share impressions of her experiences on the African continent, the film was a highlight of several national and international festivals. Its singular poetic form creates and revises a dialogue between Africa and the diaspora, starting with the question of how to create “a dance that is so black it is blue.”1

The success of Pi’s endeavor resides in the fact that the director does not recognize the legitimacy of the antiblack world that created the demeaning expression.  The inquiry acts as an ironic provocation. NoirBLUE recognizes that the Western world will never read Black experiences as anything other than trauma. Thus, what we see on the screen already points to the recognition that a blue noir dance, a transmutation dance, is only possible in another type of world. This world emerges with the announcement of the “end of the world as we know it,” what Denise Ferreira da Silva stated as the affirmation of a black feminist poetics, a Black existence in this post-world.2 For Ferreira, in the collapse of the Western model of knowledge with its categories of space and time, Black women in their bodies and poetics are the locus of futurity. Black women are the film’s location.

In NoirBLUE, present, past, and future coexist and are amended by the dancer wherever she goes. Be it at the desert, over and below a bridge in the Niger river in Bamako, on a red soil road, at a place that looks like an abandoned tannery, at an outdoor amphitheate, or at a sandy soccer field, the dancer amends. The origin of the film’s spiral temporality goes back to African traditions.3 Breaking with the common sense notion that every trip has a middle and an end, NoirBLUE is a looping travel diary whose central gesture is to be, not to arrive or depart. Being is its “biggest commitment,” as Ana Pi says. The initial impression that the film is simply about a Black diasporic person reencountering their ancestry on the African continent quickly dissolves as the film progresses.

The body in the film moves through the different environments in its journey through different African countries: Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Mauritania. In Ana Pi’s black body, the territories are consolidated because it is in and through her body, a “body-territory,” that the recognition and knowledge of people, places, and cultures occurs.4 In transit through different spaces, Pi dances, but with the music hardly heard. During most of the film, the only sound present is her voice narrating her thoughts. “Some things I see, others you have to imagine.” In the rhythmic pace of her voice, interspersed with pauses sometimes as long as taking a breath before a deep dive, one film unfolds on the screen and another one in the imagination of the viewer. They operate in complementarity, gradually unveiling the invisible.

In almost every dance scene, Ana Pi has a blue veil that dances with her and with the wind. Sometimes touching the ground and sometimes tied and untied with her thoughts and feelings. The veil contains layers of temporality in its blue color; it is more of a character than a simple element of performance. This type of veil is sold in West Africa by the Tuaregs, a nomadic people who inhabit part of the Sahel, a strip of desert below the Sahara. The Tuaregs use it in their everyday desert life to protect themselves from wind and sand. NoirBLUE enhances the blue of the veil as nomadic, unstable, and flowing like its people of origin. Yet, it also functions in terms of grounding and roots: “This veil reveals to me that which is most hidden in the story they told me.” The blue extracted from indigo, a plant used to dye fabric throughout West Africa, was one of the revenue sources for plantations in the Atlantic world at the time of slavery. (It is an indigo found on Nana’s darkened hands and dress, and the Unborn Child’s hair bow in the past and future simultaneity of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991).) An ancestral as well as current indigo blue, it dances and travels in Ana Pi’s displacements, reconnecting geographies and temporalities.

With silences, blurs, slow-motion and reverse dances, overlays of images, transitions in black and blue screens, Ana Pi performs what Tina Campt calls a “practice of refusal.”5 It is the refusal of the system’s repeated violence in seemingly subtle or not so subtle ways.6 The film’s initial claim – “It is important to know that what I am experiencing now is the future that someone dreamed for me a long time ago” – returns in the end with the same colored and diffuse lights while moving smoothly to the sound of Pi’s always serene voiceover. “Now I am also dreaming of those who will come after me.” By merging the temporality of Black experiences into a dancing gift, NoirBLUE traces a story of the (re)encounter of the diaspora with the African continent. A story no longer based on trauma, but rather on the announcement of a futurity that pulsates like the rhythm of the heart. A story with the conviction of freedom in a world where no shade of black turns out to be blue.7

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This is one of four essays from the fourteenth transmission of b.O.s. (Black One Shot). Read the other essays here:

b.O.s 15.1/All Is Written/Fumi Okiji
b.O.s. 15.3/Black Painting/Erin Jenoa Gilbert
b.O.s 15.4/The Distraction of Symbolism/Terri Francis
b.O.s 15.5/Narcissister Breast Work/Ariel Osterweis

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Lisa Uddin is author of Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), and has recent writing in the volume Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), ASAP/J, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Postmodern Culture. She’s here for the freedom.

Michael Boyce Gillespie is the author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Duke University Press, 2016). His recent work has appeared in Black Light: A Retrospective of International Black Cinema, Flash Art, Unwatchable, and Film Quarterly. He hopes that people are still outraged in November.

Endnotes

  1. Interview by Adriano Garrett for the website Cine Festivais during the 22nd Mostra de Tiradentes (23.1.19). Available at https://cinefestivais.com.br/ana-pi-fala-sobre-NoirBLUE-deslocamentos-de-uma-danca/
  2. Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Toward a Black Feminist Poetics. The Quest(ion) of Blackness Towards the End of The Word,” The Black Scholar, Volume 44, Number 2 (Summer 2014): 81-97.
  3. Leda Martins, “Performances do tempo espiralar,” in Performance, exílio, fronteiras: errâncias territoriais e textuais, ed. Grabriella Ravetti and Arber, Márcia (Belo Horizonte: Departamento de Letras Românicas/Faculdade de Letras/UFMG, 2002).
  4. Initially coined by Leda Martins to think about black performances from the Congado, a traditional Afro-Brazilian cultural manifestation, the notions of body-territory and spiraling time to talk about the performances of black bodies have been used to think about contemporary Brazilian black cinema by Tatiana Carvalho da Costa in her research for the doctoral thesis entitled “Black Brazilian Cinema and its fiction-bodies – Afro-diasporic identity and fabulations in contemporary short films directed by self-declared black people”.
  5. Tina M. Campt, “Black visuality and the practice of refusal,” Women & Performance 29.1 (2019): 79-87.
  6. For example, when a director who confuses Pi with one of the house workers and does not recognize her as a project artist or when she mentions the repetition of the absence of the name on the show’s poster.
  7. Last Looping: the solo show NoirBLUE was dedicated to the #BlackLivesMatter and #JovemNegroVivo, marking what Jota Mombaça called a re-enactment of an ancestral force as an anticipatory envisioning. This pairing of time and memory is an urgent valuing of black lives. The film is dedicated to Julio César de Oliveira, Ana Pi’s father, a visual artist, a black man who disappeared in the state of Minas Gerais in March 2018. I hope that Julio César, “so black and blue” in the final screen before credits, reappears soon and reiterates this return of the time spiral of black lives in another futurity.  (See Jota Mombaça, “Darkness as a Non-representational Field in Ana Pi’s NoirBLUE,” ContemporaryAnd (C&) [30 November 2017]: ://www.contemporaryand.com/magazines/darkness-as-a-non-representational-field-in-ana-pis-NoirBLUE/)
Janaína Oliveira
Janaína Oliveira has a Ph.D. in History and is a professor at the Federal Institute of Rio de Janeiro (IFRJ) and Fulbright scholar at the Center for African Studies at Howard University. She is the head programmer of the Zózimo Bulbul Black Cinema Film Festival in Rio de Janeiro, part of the programming committee of the FINCAR, International Women Filmmakers Festival in Recife, and the advisor for African and Black diaspora films for the Locarno Film Festival. She is a member of the Association of Black Audiovisual Professionals (APAN) and the founder and coordinator of the Black Cinema Itinerant Forum (FICINE). Oliveira is the programmer of the 66th Flaherty Film Seminar scheduled for June 2021.