Challenging the Ethnographic Gaze

Far From You (1996) from Samirah Alkassim on Vimeo.

There is a type of documentary, related to ethnography, which we can discuss in terms of an anti-colonial aesthetics.  It often blurs distinctions between fiction and non-fiction modes. It is distinct from ethnography in conception, mode of production and effect. It works on and re-contextualizes social and political issues in structurally and conceptually innovative ways, often as remediations and reflections of colonial and post-colonial histories. But the difference between the anti-colonial and post-colonial can be confusing. The term post-colonial has specific attributes of time and place, conveying the time not only after colonialism but around colonialism, whereas anti-colonialism explicitly challenges the negative effects of both that linger in today’s world.    

The usage of such terms can be problematic because they appear to seek linguistic and ontological affirmation, while caught in an endlessly repetitive cycle of coming from and returning to a hugely ironic situation.  This is the irony of creating a name for a type of work which often questions and unveils the apparatus of naming itself, and which interrogates its own discourse, means of production, and means of viewing. My work emerges from this anxiety of naming out of which temporary and shifting identities are constructed. This can be seen in the examples above and below.

Onward, 2012

Published by Samirah Alkassim

Independent filmmaker and film scholar specializing in international cinemas, Middle Eastern and North African film, experimental film and video.

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