Archival Cinema Van Photos used by Artist Maryam Jafri

Artist Maryam Jafri’s has used archival cinema van photos from Ghana’s National Archives in two of her 2008 works: Staged Archive and Mobile Cinema. Below is text from her website about both pieces.

"Staged Archive" by Maryam Jafri

A man gets into a car and goes for a drive, he reaches an unexpected destination– a courtroom awash in fiery colors, populated by people from his past. Mixing reality with fantasy, present with past, the film’s multiple voices and images flicker like phantoms across the bleak landscape of memory. Unfolding as a series of identity and spatial shifts, cycling through multiple film genres (film noir, courtroom drama, road movie) but remaining faithful to none, Staged Archive has the elusive logic of a dream and the fevered mood of a suppressed memory that reemerges in nightmare form.

Background info: The film’s narrative is inspired by the travelogue genre of literature that peaks during the Victorian era and continues until just before WWII. A common theme is that of missionaries and travelers voyaging to the far reaches of the globe, often with disastrous consequences. Joseph Conrad comes to mind of course but other writers have also explored the genre, including Somerset Maugham in his celebrated short story ‘Rain’ which centers on a missionary’s suicide in the South Pacific.

The archival photos used in the film come from the National Archives of Ghana. They show images of a mobile cinema, a van carrying a portable 16mm projector, linen projection screen and a mini electrical generator. Mobile cinemas were particularly favored by missionaries to project scenes from the Bible in the middle of anywhere and everywhere.

2008, Digital video (DVCPro 50), 9 min. Directed by Maryam Jafri

"Mobile Cinema" by Maryam Jafri

The history of cinema in Africa begins at least as early as 1905 when some circus performers presented films by the Lumiere brothers in Dakar. By the 1930s, the films of Charlie Chaplin found an appreciative audience in urban areas such as Lagos, Freetown and Nairobi. Alarmed that Chaplin and other popular Western filmmakers were either too complicated for native minds or worse, presented Europeans in unflattering terms, the colonial governments began producing films expressly for African audiences. Because most Africans lived far from urban centers at that time, colonial authorities made extensive use of the mobile cinema — a van carrying a portable 16mm projector, linen projection screen and a mini electrical generator that could be set up in the middle of anywhere. Films were pedagogical (Post Office, Progress), health related (Leprosy, Syphilis), or reverse-anthropological [Mr. English At Home(1942), An African In London(1942)]. Manthia Diawara and other film critics have noted that theses colonial films turned film history back to the beginning with the use of fixed camera positions, minimal editing and linear, simplified plot. Around WWII, war propaganda films and newsreels to recruit soldiers, were produced and afterwards, colonial film units began using films to advertise consumer products. Some of the most frequent users of mobile cinemas were missionaries who projected short films or slide shows of Biblical stories. In the cities however where Africans could still see films meant only for white audiences, one British critic lamented that Chaplin seemed more popular than ever.

Mobile Cinema juxtaposes images of mobile cinemas culled from the National Archives of Ghana with captions featuring colonial film titles. A small text panel, off to one side of the installation, elliptically comments on the origin of the captions — “titles of films produced by the Colonial Film Unit and possibly carried by this van, 1935-1957.”

2008, installation w/archival photos and text captions, dimensions variable


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