By Irenosen Okojie
In this essay, writer Irenosen Okojie reflects on Ayo Akingbade’s Claudette’s Star, one of the new commissions in our Second Sight film tour exploring the legacy, methods, aesthetic strategies and histories of the UK’s Black Film Workshop Movement.
An auspiciously symbolic opening sets the dream like tone in this cerebral offering on art, imagination and the nature of artistic practice from director Ayo Akingbade. A lone woman wanders through a hazy flowery field before lying down then stretching her arms towards the sky in a display of quiet desire. A scene in a gallery follows, interrogating what makes a good painting and further still, what makes an active audience. The sparse female gallery figures orbit around paintings in a hypnotic sequence where time appears to slow down. As though we need to look more closely at the paintings mounted on the walls again or perhaps it is the women, walking around in a stupor that the eye should concentrate on. The scene plays with our sensory modes, the first indication of a subtly illusive piece. It moves between three spaces; the field, the gallery and a library setting.
The woman in the field longs to be elsewhere. She studies a map of the world through a magnifying glass. She runs its circular frame over India, Nigeria and other African countries as though capturing fragmentary potential lives under a glass sphere. She throws two dice on the map, one white, one red. The roll of dice signifies a woman’s longing to surpass limitations. Back in the gallery, a young black woman muses over a larger than life painting of a black girl in a tracksuit. Her internal dialogue becomes our own in a moment that feels serendipitous. She wanders around the museum. The film shifts from her temporary perspective into a more omniscient view.
Black figures move through a library section, hovering before looming shelves of old books. As the camera hones in on each person reflecting on their choice of book, these moments of intimacy are like releasing a breath. The proclivities of nameless black men and women means we are getting to know them somewhat. One young woman selects Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, choosing it for documenting the every day experiences of what it means to be a black woman in a profound yet simple way that validates her experiences. A man selects An English Florilegium which explores the contexts of horticulture in the 1600s. Another younger man chooses two books, one by Felix Gonzalez-Torres on his practice, the second on art and mindfulness. The last woman picks We Wanted a Revolution, Black Radical Women 1965 – 1985. These are essays on black women artists working from the mid 60’s to the 80’s.
The shots here have a documentary style quality with this collective of artist seekers talking directly to the camera in short vignettes. One feels a fleeting sense of intimacy. These scenes ground us in reality with the texts acting as physical mementos enshrining black life and artistic practice. An image of the group collectively looking contemplatively into the distance follows. One by one each person exits the scene. As the final shot depicts a celestial painting of a woman suspended in the clouds, one envisions a flurry of entrances and exits, recalling the woman in the field, perhaps passing through the brief black warp that follows. The film may appear sporadic in its unfurling but the jumps between spaces never feel jarring. They are symphonies, a series of states communicating with each other. Frames are imbued with powerful imagery; a snaky path through a flowery field beckoning seductively, a naked male statue with the camera focusing on its frozen penis, black figures before books heading in different directions. Claudette’s Star is about dreaming in different spaces. One almost expects the elements of those dreams to seep into each other, where the lines of the field, the museum and the library become blurred, beautifully delivering us into a wistful state as the audience succumbs, not just watching a series of revolving juxtaposed sequences but feeling wholly immersed enough to recall the wonder of day dreaming and to want to conjure our own lingering, expansive meditations.
Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian British writer. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for an Edinburgh International First Book Award. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Observer,The Guardian, the BBC and the Huffington Post among other publications. In July 2020, she won the AKO Caine prize for African writing for her short story Grace Jones.
Second Sight is available to book now for both physical and online screenings.The tour incorporates key archive films from the period as well as new commissions from contemporary film artists, created in response to the Black Film Workshop context.