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The Four Directions
Honouring Indigenous Media-tellers from the East, West, North, and South
by Cheryl L'Hirondelle and Angus Leech
"World indigeneity" is a concept rooted in the idea that, whatever part of the planet we inhabit, we are all born on and from the earth, and are hence connected to one another - through the elements and, increasingly, through the globalizing technological infrastructure of the World Wide Web - in a dynamic series of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual relationships. The creation and design of this issue of HorizonZero begins with a Cree (nęhiyawin) worldview, and expands to embrace indigenous communities across Canada and around the world.
From what I have come to understand, the term nęhiyaw (cree) refers to being "four-bodied" - a term which acknowledges an essential connection to "all our relations", all of the other people of the earth extending in each of the four cardinal directions: East, West, North, and South. In recognition of this relationship, TELL begins to give a voice to all our relations, and include all cultures, by profiling the work of four storytellers from around the globe. From Africa and Asia to the UK and Aotearoa (New Zealand), each teller speaks from their direction, and each brings us a story that is, as Trinh T. Minh-ha might say, "at once a fragment and a whole; a whole within a whole".
~ Cheryl L'Hirondelle
SOUTH: Aotearoa (aka New Zealand)
NGĂTAHI (Know the Links)
A dvd by Dean Hapeta
Representing in the South corner is Maori "rapumentary" filmmaker Dean Hapeta, aka Te Kupu, [http://tekupu.com/] whose double-dvd opus NGĂTAHI (Know the Links) traces a connective web between marginalized communities all over the planet, from Aotearoa and Colombia to Ottawa and Paris, documenting their self-determination efforts through the movement's most potent storytelling medium - music. Focusing primarily on the indigenous hip hop contagion, but widening to embrace all forms of street poetry and expression, this fragmentary journey from 'burb to barrio is both a revolutionary love ballad and incendiary polemic, with its subjects oscillating between intonations of "peace" and "freedom first, then peace". Presented as a free flow of words, images, and live performances, the film lacks overdubbed narration - save for the frenetic commentary track from Te Kupu himself, who explains that his intent is to represent a "collage of voices" that's "all about linkin' us up". Ngătahi is a Maori word meaning "togetherness" or "oneness", and it's clear here that this story is about uniting Indigenous and marginalized peoples in worldwide solidarity via their socio-political similarities. Or - as one speaker at Medellin, Columbia's International Poetry Festival puts it - it's about helping to "globalize the struggle of an imagination in search of human liberty". Powerful ideals eloquently spoken by Te Kupu's own hip hop reggae group Upper Hutt Posse in this video excerpt entitled "Te Hono Whakakoro", which interleaves rap with Maori haka (warrior dance) and the politics of territorial protest. ~AL
To watch a clip from NGĂTAHI (Know the Links), visit HorizonZero's Flash site.
NORTH: United Kingdom
The Dream Palace
An interactive story by Ben Haggarty and 20/20 Strategy & Design
According to Ben Haggarty, [http://www.britishcouncil.org /argentina / argentina-arts /argentina-arts-literature_and_film /argentina-arts-words_on_words /argentina-arts-wow_haggarty.htm] to be a storyteller is "to try, in the dynamic moment of performance, to engage directly with all the potent energies existing between audience, story, and storyteller - in this way 'a happening' may occur, something immediate, magical, and memorable." Since 1981, Haggarty's voice has been primary in the revival of professional storytelling in Britain: as a co-founder of The Company of Storytellers touring group, as director of Britain's first storytelling festival in 1985, and as a collaborator with international artists like filmmaker Jim Henson and musicians Yo-Yo Ma and Sianed Jones. Driven by a particular interest in "unveiling the concealed deities that lurk in the shadows of European wonder tales", Haggarty is best known for his performances of epics such as Gilgamesh and Midir and Eadaoin. More recently, Frankenstein's Dialogues, [link no longer active www.godsandmonsterstour.co.uk/haggarty] his stage retelling of Mary Shelley's classic tale, brought her explorations of human-created artificial consciousness forward into our contemporary age of genetic engineering. Haggarty has stated that his work follows a passionate belief that "all contemporary issues have always been contemporary issues, and that the collective voice of our ancestors affirms that existential transformations for the better, though conditional, are real possibilities." Undercurrents of this passion are clearly discernible in the branching narrative of Haggerty's The Dream Palace, an exercise in online telling produced by the UK's 20/20 Strategy & Design. [www.20.20.co.uk] While the adoption of multimedia has required Haggarty's usual script-less stage improvisation to give way to tight oration by a professional actor, The Dream Palace nevertheless manages to redirect the flow of energy between audience, story, and teller into a new medium with potency, and keep the magic happening. ~AL
To experience The Dream Palace, an interactive story, visit HorizonZero's Flash site.
Passport to Paradise
A visual art exhibit by the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA
In an era of global politics in which positive images of Islam cross cultural firewalls into Western consciousness far too rarely, Senegal stands out as the emanation point of a major wave of artistic and lyrical celebration founded in the region's Sufi Muslim mysticism. Senegalese Sufism is unique in its thought and practice while still recognizing its origins in the Arab world. In actuality, it consists of many somewhat distinct communities, all of which play their role in a trend of ecumenical outreach to the international sphere. There has been the influence of the griot - traditional musician/storytellers whose time-honoured role, as explained by griot artist Aliou Cissokho, [www.kongoi.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=11] has been to act as peacekeepers, to "stand and tell the truth and then make people happy with…music" whenever community problems require resolution. Youssou N'Dour, [www.youssou.com] perhaps Africa's best known musical presence, also comes from this tradition, and his latest album Egypt (2004) could be interpreted as a typically griot attempt to heal global tensions through song. As N'Dour explains in his liner notes, the album at heart "praises the tolerance of my religion, a religion that in recent times has come to be both misunderstood and misinterpreted by many commentators and adherents alike". Egypt is a spirited homage to the ethos of the Mouride Way, a Senagalese Sufi movement rooted in the tolerant teachings of Sheikh Amadu Bamba (1853-1927). The Mouride religion has inspired not only a deep mysticism among its followers, but also a profound work ethic, an ecological youth movement called Set/Setal ("cleanliness and propriety") based around detoxifying and beautifying urban spaces, practicing safe sex, and so on - and, of particular note, an incredibly vibrant visual culture depicting Islamic values through everything from wall murals and graffiti to paintings on glass and canvas, lithographs, and sculpture. Passport to Paradise: Sufi Arts of Senegal and Beyond is a traveling exhibition, Web site, [www.fowler.ucla.edu/paradise/main001.htm] and educational program organized by the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA. The project documents graphic expressions of the Mouride Way in impressive detail, helping to paint this imagistic narrative mode firmly into the aforementioned "Senagalese emanation". Featured here is a street mural of Sheikh Amadu Bamba and the Kaaba of Mecca by one of Senegal's most prolific graffitists, Papisto Boy. ~AL
Visit the Passport to Paradise Web exhibit at:
An essay by Trinh T. Minh-ha
Initially trained as a musical composer, Trinh T. Minh-ha has since established herself as an experimental feminist filmmaker, documentarian, and expert on Third World post-colonial film theory. Her films have explored themes such as art and politics in China (Shoot for the Contents; 1991), narratives of identity and struggle as told by Vietnamese women (Surname Viet, Given Name Nam; 1989), and social ritual in Japan (The Fourth Dimension; 2001). Minh-ha has also applied her storytelling talents in the field of multimedia installation (Nothing But Ways, a collaboration with Lynne Kirby; 1999), and is a widely respected writer: the text featured here is a re-printed excerpt from Grandma's Story, an essay originally published in the 1989 book Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (Indiana University Press). Less a manifesto on storytelling than an exploration of its multidimensional nature, Grandma's Story in many ways positions itself as a resistance to conceptually violent separations of fact and fiction, and the presently dominant "rising action" story-arc of Western drama. The essay is, at its core, about remedying widespread cultural ignorance of the "other ways of telling and listening" embodied by Indigenous modes of narrative: ways of telling that - like Minh-ha's career - are often winding, sinuous, and characterized by all the complexity and integrity of a spider's web. ~AL
To read an excerpt from Grandma's Story by Trinh T. Minh-ha, select "Grandma's Story" in HorizonZero's text site menu.