Reading Architecture through La Noire de... Film as an embodied archive and critique of the modernizing city

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As a means to think through Diouana’s embodied experience of the two cities, this text brings La Noire de…, by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, into conversation with writings by Martinican political philosopher Frantz Fanon, specifically “Algeria Unveiled” and The Wretched of the Earth, written in 1959 and 1961 respectively. Through the lens of Fanon’s thinking, we may look at Antibes and Dakar as historically constituted and defined, as sites of racialized violence, resistance, and refusal.1 This text suggests that in addition to reading the film as a record of a particular moment in time in Dakar, it can also be read as an historiographic intervention—a proposition for how to study urban and architectural archives of the postcolonial city. Although the film begins with Diouana’s arrival in France, the plot travels back and forth in time and space between her tragic present in Antibes and the life in Dakar she left behind. This narrative technique draws attention to the enduring coloniality of the time and the ongoing associations between these distant cities, as well as presents a gendered and racialized reading of domestic and infrastructural space. La Noire de… can therefore be read as an embodied archive and as a spatial critique that asks us to think of architecture in terms of the entangled colonial and neocolonial relationships embodied within it. This is not only evident in the relationship between Dakar’s so-called native quarter and settler city, but also in the sustained inequality of the power dynamic between colony and metropole, between global south and north.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCanadian Centre for Architecture
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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