Films, France

Alain Resnais and Chris Marker’s “Statues Also Die”

African art outside of museums and the Western imagination

Présence AfricainePrésence AfricainePrésence Africaine is a semi-annual pan-African magazine, founded in 1947 by Alioune Diop asked us for a film on black African art. Chris Marker and I have started our reflection with the following question: why is black African art located in the Musée de l’HommeMusée de l’HommeEthnographic museum located in Paris, France.,  whereas the Greek or Egyptian is in the Louvre?“ French filmmaker Alain Resnais replied when asked by René Vautier in 1972 about the film essay Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die), which he co-directed with Chris Marker in 1953. 

The film sheds a critical light on the Western and colonial gaze casted upon the objects of African art, tracing the violent dispossession and subsequent ethnologization of African objects. Seventy years later, African art is still primarily on display in  the ethnographic museums of Europe, making the film’s poignant insights into the Western mechanisms of otherness creation and the reinforcement of alterity continually relevant. This ongoing dynamic has also been addressed in Mati Diop’s film Dahomey, recently screened at the 2024 Berlinale, which chronicles the return of the 26 royal treasures of the Kingdom of Dahomey to their historical homeland.

The film’s voiceover states that: 

Black art becomes a dead language and what is born on his steps is the jargon of decadence. Its religious requirements are followed by commercial requirements. And given that the white is the buyer, given that demand outstrips supply, given that it is necessary to go fast, black art becomes indigenous handcraft. Ever more degraded replicas of the beautiful pictures invented by African culture are fabricated. Here, the village is vulgarized, the technique is impoverished. In the country where every form had its signification, where the gracefulness of a curve was a declaration of love to the world, one becomes accustomed to an art of bazaar.

EE brings the powerful work of Marker and Resnais back to the screen via our online cinema to “affirm and recognize the value of African artifacts outside of the museum or the Western imagination.”Western imagination.” “Statues Also Die - But Their Death is not the Final Word” by Matthias De Groof. Image & Narrative, Vol 11, No 1 (2010)

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