“The African immigrant is unlike the African American who has a double consciousness,” Akosua Adoma Owusu wrote in her director’s statement for Mi Broni Ba (2009):
“The African immigrant has a triple consciousness. The African immigrant has to assimilate in White American culture in order to succeed in American society. The African immigrant is grouped and identified with African Americans in the eyes of others because of their shared skin color. Yet the African does not always identify with African American culture and history. Along with the African immigrant’s triple consciousness, he has to deal with the African world and his or her own line of descent.”
In the short films she has made since 2005, Owusu, who was born in the U.S. to parents from Ghana, has explored the oppositions and syntheses produced by this triple consciousness, using an array of formal strategies to locate intersections and divergences between the African, the African American, and the White American.
Whether working with original footage recorded in the United States and Ghana or from archival material, Owusu has paid particular attention to each of these cultures’ racialized symbols of femininity. She has documented the proliferation of white baby dolls in Ghana, riffed on the advertising of domestic appliances in the United States, and has made multiple investigations into the charged semiotics of women’s hairstyles in both continents.
Uncovering the histories embedded within everyday objects, and tracing the threads that bind the local to the global and the personal to the political, Owusu’s impressionistic films achieve a casual complexity to mirror all the complications of lived experience.
Program Runtime: 93 minutes
5 minutes | 2007 | digital projection
“The intersection of identity and cultural appropriation is at the heart of Akosua Adoma Owusu’s video ‘Intermittent Delight’. This carefully constructed work juxtaposes close-ups of batik textiles, fashion and design from the 1950s and 1960s, images of men weaving and women sewing in Ghana, and fragments of a Westinghouse 1960s commercial—aimed to instruct women on the how-to of refrigerator decoration. Constructed from a combination of 1960s Afrobeat, traditional Asante Adwa music, and field recordings of West African men and women during production of cloths and garments, the soundtrack designed by Kari Rae Seekins pulls the piece together and imbues it with a jolty and festive tone. The work touches upon the idea of feminism’s uneven geographical and historical development, and the nuances of labor conditions women face depending on where they live.”
– New Langton Arts
22 minutes |2009 | digital projection
“Me Broni Ba” (“My White Baby”) is a lyrical portrait of hair salons in Kumasi, Ghana. The tangled legacy of European colonialism in Africa is evoked through images of women practicing hair braiding on discarded white baby dolls from the West. The film unfolds through a series of vignettes, set against a child’s story of migrating from Ghana to the United States. The film uncovers the meaning behind the Akan term of endearment, me broni ba, which means “my white baby.”
12 minutes |2010| digital projection
A portrait of an abandoned public swimming facility located in Accra, Ghana. The Riviera was once known as Ghana’s first pleasure beach. A one-time extravagant Ambassador Hotel of post-colonial – early Kwame Nkrumah era, the Riviera Beach Club thrived until the mid-1970’s. The Olympic sized pool, now in a dilapidated state, is used for locals for things other than swimming. Inspired by the myth of a Detroit electronic bands, Drexciya & Underground Resistance.
5 minutes | 2012| digital projection
A woman attaches hair piece, black women in hair salons get their hair plaited; and a woman models on a yellow turban. Eccentric hairstyles reveal the roots of Afro hair in which activist, Angela Davis becomes involved. Manipulating and re-positioning found footage as subject matter, “Split Ends, I feel wonderful” observes the latest fad in hairstyles of 1975 among African-Americans in NYC. The film takes us to a time when Black was beautiful and a symbol of African pride.
OKAY BYE-BYE by Rebecca Baron
39 minutes | 1998 | United States | English | HD projection
In okay bye-bye, so named for what Cambodian children shouted to the U.S. ambassador in 1975 as he took the last helicopter out of Phnom Phenh in advance of the Khmer Rouge, Rebecca Baron explores the relationship of history to memory. She questions whether, “image and memory can occupy the same space.” Building on excerpts from letters, found super-8 footage of an unidentified Cambodian man, iconographic photographs from the Vietnam War and other partial images, Baron combines epistolary narrative, memoir, journalism, and official histories to question whether something as monumental as the genocidal slaughter of Cambodians during the Pol Pot regime can be examined effectively with traditional methodologies.
HAIR PIECE A FILM FOR NAPPY-HEADED PEOPLE by Ayoka Chenzira
10 minutes | 1985 | Color | 16mm
An animated satire on the question of self image for African American women living in a society where beautiful hair is viewed as hair that blows in the wind and lets you be free. Lively tunes and witty narration accompany a quick-paced inventory of relaxers, gels and curlers. Such rituals are all-too familiar to African American women-and indeed to all women confronted with an unattainable ideal of beauty. This short film has become essential for discussions of racism, African American cinema and empowerment. Used by hundreds of groups as diverse as museums, churches, hospitals and hair stylists.
AKOSUA ADOMA OWUSU
Akosua Adoma Owusu is an American filmmaker and artist of Ghanaian descent. She received an MFA in the Schools of Film/Video and Fine Art from CalArts in 2008. One of ArtForum‘s Top Ten Artists, Owusu is informed by experimental filmmaking, personal ethnography, memory, and cultural representation. She has exhibited worldwide, including at MoMA, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Centre Pompidou, The Smithsonian Institute, Rotterdam Film Festival, Viennale and London Film Festival, among others. Owusu’s work has been featured in The New York Times, SF Weekly, and Film Threat. Her films include Intermittent Delight, Drexciya and Me Broni Ba (My White Baby)—all of which won several Best Documentary awards and nominations around the world. Owusu was a featured artist at the 56th Robert Flaherty Seminar. She is a recipient of The Sarah Jacobson Film Grant, ArtMatters Grant, and the Focus Features Africa First commission.
This project is made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts’ Electronic Media and Film Presentation Funds grant program, administered by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes (www.NYSCA.org and www.eARTS.org).
Established in 1972 to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry, Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. The organization provides services to both users and makers of film and video programs, with a special emphasis on supporting work by women of color. Women Make Movies facilitates the development of feminist media through an internationally recognized Distribution Service and a Production Assistance Program.