Thursday 21 July 2022, 7pm Price: £8, £5 conc.

Join us for the international premiere of Manthia Diawara’s film, A Letter from Yene, commissioned by Serpentine, MUBI and PCAI Polygreen Culture & Art Initiative as part of Back to Earth.

The screening is followed by a conversation between the artist and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, Serpentine. This event is presented in collaboration with Institut français du Royaume-Uni.

 

A Letter from Yene emerges from conversations with the community in the seaside town of Yene, Senegal, where Diawara lives for part of the year. The area was traditionally and primarily occupied by fishermen and farmers but has in recent decades been besieged by coastal erosion and uncontrolled urbanisation. Fish have become scarce and the pirogues, traditional fishing boats, cannot go far enough into the sea, so their owners have turned to new occupations. Modern fishing requires motorised boats and large nets made from non-biodegradable wires that become lethally entangled with purple coral, and human detritus, eventually washing up on shores like woven creatures of the sea. The women who used to smoke fish and preserve it as part of a sustainable mode of living now sell pebbles to the owners of the newly built houses. The sand, granite, shells and pebbles that affluent house owners buy to build, decorate and protect their homes against the winds and salt of the sea contribute, ironically, to the degradation of the bottom layers of the ocean and intensify coastal erosion.

Diawara’s documentary unfolds as if it were a letter written to the viewer. In A Letter from Yene, the filmmaker is not only the storyteller, but also the owner of one of the houses along the beach. Following encounters between fishermen, pebble collectors and himself, Diawara explores how their intersecting lives collectively and unknowingly contribute to the undermining of their shared environment.

Artist Biography

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Manthia Diawara (b.1953) is a writer, filmmaker, cultural theorist, scholar, and art historian. Diawara holds the title of University Professor at New York University, where he is Director of the Institute of African American Affairs.

Diawara was born in Bamako, Mali and received his early education in France. He later received a Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1985. Prior to teaching at NYU, Diawara taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Along with other notable scholars, Diawara has sought to incorporate consideration of the material conditions of African Americans to provide a broader context for the study of African diasporic culture. 

His 1998 book In Search of Africa is an account of his return to his childhood home of Guinea and was published by Harvard University Press. Diawara is a founding editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a journal of arts, culture and politics dedicated to work that engages contemporary Black concerns. In 2003, Diawara released We Won’t Budge: A Malaria Memoir, the title a tribute to Salif Keita’s anthemic protest song Nou Pas Bouger.

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