The first retrospective on Sarah Maldoror (Gers, France, 1929) in Spain rediscovers a vital film-maker whose work remains obscure, despite her huge commitment to the decolonial movement and the struggles for social diversity from 1960 onwards. Born Sarah Ducados to an Antillean father and a French mother, she took on the name Maldoror in homage to Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror) by Lautréamont, a poet admired by the Surrealists. Such a gesture sought to breathe life into Surrealism from the tenets of Négritude, an artistic, social and political movement she would become a major exponent of, with her work responding at once to the search for poetic form with which to express an alternative identity and the promise of a future society offering new black culture emanating from anti-colonialism and Pan-Africanism during the 1960s.
In 1961 Maldoror went to Moscow to study film, and it was there that she met Ousmane Sembène, the great Senegalese film-maker, and began working on vibrant and syncopated montages to rhythms of jazz and black music. Upon her return to France she joined the struggles of the African emancipation movements, complementing her films with essays by Amílcar and Luis Cabral, Joaquim and Mário de Andrade. A condemnation of the colonialist system is at the core of her best-known films: Monangambée, Sambizanga and La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers), in which she collaborated as assistant director to Gillo Pontecorvo.
The aforementioned films, shot in Algeria and the Congo at the height of anti-colonial uprisings, denounce the repression of people and the use of torture against guerrillas from an anti-racist and feminist perspective of emancipation, in keeping with the film-maker’s oeuvre. Despite a strong political commitment, her work eschewed propaganda, so much so that Algeria’s revolutionary government considered her first feature, Des fusils pour Banta, too ambiguous and seized it – the film has not seen the light of day until now. The thrilling prospect of a society without Western rule paved the way for a new line of work, in which African identity is explored through festivals and carnivals, leading to a collaboration with William Klein in the huge 1969 fresco Festival panafricain d'Alger (The Pan-African Festival of Algiers), showing the carnivals of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
In the wake of this militant period, Maldoror approached Négritude as a poetics of difference. Based on Pan-Africanism, anti-colonialism and the synthesis between Marxism and Surrealism, Négritude is a cultural movement founded by poets Aimé Cesaire (Martinica, 1913–2018), Leopold Senghor (Senegal, 1906–2001) and Leon G. Damas (France, 1912–1978). It had such a strong influence on Sarah Maldoror that her films would be defined as a translation of the three writers’ poetry into images and sound, a visual manifesto of Négritude manifested in the consideration of identity as the result of relations, the constant presence of orality, the poetic word, and the frenetic rhythm of sonorous music.
Participants: presentation and round-table discussions
Annouchka de Andrade is Sarah Maldoror’s daughter and one of the main figures behind the recovery of her work.
Mathieu Klebeye Abonnenc is an Antillean artist whose work approaches Sarah Maldoror’s and who looks to rebuild the affection and personal threads of the early decolonial movement.
Olivier Hadouchi is a researcher, professor and independent programmer who has worked tirelessly to recover militant and decolonial cinema from the 1960s and 1970s.
Chema González is head of the Museo Reina Sofía’s Cultural Activities and Audovisuals and the curator of this series.