Return - An Editorial by Lisa Badevokila

Lisa Badevokila is an animator, illustrator and visual artist based in London. Her practice focuses on cultural realities such as post-colonialism and her intimate experiences relating to feelings of belonging, connection and community. In her editorial for SEADOG she writes about her latest project, Return. Return is an animated film following African art objects’ journey of transformation as they break away from the Western museum. Her animation explores what it means to self-determine and to embrace one’s multiplicity.

The idea of a journey played a crucial role in the creation of Return. Although the  focus was on African art objects and their colonial origin, my aim with this project was to  highlight the transformative aspect of the journey to decolonisation, starting with the mind  and the wide array of emotions it evokes. 

My reflection on this topic started with Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. In his book length poem, Caribbean writer Aimé Césaire takes us on a journey of self-discovery and  acceptance. The story portrays an exiled native returning to his colonised homeland,  Martinique, after residing in Europe. Initially, he expresses disgust and contempt for his  once-called home. However, through vivid imagery and surrealist metaphors, his perspective  transforms, leading to empathy, love, and acceptance. By taking us on this transformative  journey, Césaire articulates an experience that resonates deeply with individuals from  African diasporas, evoking a strong sense of recognition and connection. Understanding the  origins of these feelings requires context. My first encounter with post-colonial literature  was Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism. The powerful language accentuated with poetic  phrases and an eloquence typical to Césaire’s, elevates this essay to a cornerstone of  postcolonial literature, making it a great introduction to this field of study.  

Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth is another significant work that  deconstructs colonial mindsets. Drawing from a psychology background, Fanon explores the  effects of colonialism on the psyche and mass consciousness, illustrating how the colonised  mind internalises the coloniser's language, leading to a fractured sense of self and identity.  Edward Said’s influential theory of “Othering” in his seminal work Orientalism also speaks to  this. By Othering, Said means categorising and interpreting – in our case, African identities – solely through a Eurocentric lens, fabricating a reality built on clichés perpetuating Western  notions of superiority. When thinking of Western museums, isn’t there a sense of Othering  when we look at African artefacts? Glass caskets, overhead lights and tombstone labels  disconnect, pull the objects out of context, and fetishise them by portraying them in  monolithic and non-specific ways. Overthrowing the power dichotomy of Othering means accepting our multifaceted-ness while also regaining agency and re-attributing meaning to our stories and to our culture, truthful and authentic.  

It is only through the process of re-appropriation that we can challenge these  narratives. Amadou Hampâté Bâ’s The Fortunes of Wangrin embodies this. Here, a man in  search of wealth and influence in a French-infested Mali weaves through the colonial  system, taking advantage of it, working for it and against it. This story serves as a tribute to  the vanishing tradition of oral storytelling and could be considered an ethnological report as it holds significant importance both in its content and form. It stands as a compelling  example of reclaiming and embracing one's narrative, illustrating the essence of the  decolonisation journey.  

As Aimé Césaire emphasises, the journey to decolonisation starts with consciousness  and culminates in agency and ownership - empowering us to wield the power to share our  own stories.

Lisa Badevokila, August 2023

Shop the full editorial here.