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Moukenguè, 1960, 11 min 30 s
Les aventures de Cheveux-de-Lion, 1961, 11 min 45 s
La jeune fille qui voyageait avec les gazelles, 1961, 21 m
Super 8 film transferred to HD Video, sound
5 + 2
Yona Friedman is a prolific Franco-Hungarian architect with very few constructed works. He acquired fame for his philosophy and ideas after the publication of his Manifeste de l’architecture mobile in 1956, which had repercussions both in the architecture and art fields. From the set of ideas he articulated there, he has been able to explore with absolute freedom the possibilities of the development of a community life.
Between 1960 and 1963, he made Stories of Africa, a series of ten animated films. Produced together with his wife Denise Charvein, film editor, they re-interpret a selection of African folk stories. Friedman himself invented an animation technique for this series: the tribal drawings painted on blocks of wood are animated based on different combinations, favouring the accidental meeting of forms, which widens the character registry. This method responds to Friedman’s interests and preferences for prefabricated geometries, those that allow for various dispositions and compositions, which he also applies to his concept of mobile architecture. He thus tried to assimilate an create an African model of representation using local materials to create stories that originate from within this same tradition; also, the music is an original composition by Friedman with fragments of melodies from the African music archive preserved by UNESCO.
The monochrome drawings of elemental lines, and the simplicity with which they tell the stories, satisfy the desire to adopt easy and achievable solutions. Loyal to his manifesto and philosophy, a reflection on the conditions of production allows —when applied to the social field— for competencies to be shifted and third parties to be empowered, allowing them to articulate their own narrative.
The way in which he approached and gave form to an imaginary that was not his own, avoiding the quaint, reconsiders the West’s relationship with Africa at a time when we are just catching a glimpse of colonial debt. It is a first stage, wherein the objects and tales are made visible, as in the 1951 short film Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die) by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais. The documentary was censored for many years due to its re-contextualisation of African culture from an anticolonial perspective and its denouncement of submitting its art to the demands of a Western gaze. Likewise, Jean Roche, ethnologist and filmmaker, wanted to show Friedman’s films all across the African continent; they received the French government’s recognition, and at the Venice Film Festival in 1962, one episode was awarded the Golden Lion Award. We find ourselves standing before an example of these first European attempts to recognise the culture, an-other, in equal conditions, although the other is still the object of study and not the subject producing knowledge.