NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 11

Well, our discovery did not change the world, and it took blood spilt in the streets and mountains of our country to make the colonial state come round to our discovery and accept one person one vote. But my brother and I knew this: if they had accepted our simple proof, there would have been no bloodshed, no Mau Mau, no concentration camps. Unfortunately, he did not live long to enjoy the morning after the vote. I lost him to a car accident. Years later after I had all but forgotten our shadowy contest, I went for a film course in Stockholm’s Dramatiska Institutet. We were twelve students drawn from the different parts of the world, all excited at the prospects of mastering the camera and the Hollywood mystery at an institute that had produced the greatest of Swedish cinema, Ingmar Bergman. He stopped by Rembrandt’s the Blinding of Samson and Night Watch and told us to look at them carefully. I did not see why he made us look at such violence for our very first lesson in film. He wanted us to note the way the artist used light. See the source of the light? Light source, whether sun in the day or moon at night, or fire inside or outside a house, and the time, yes, the time or even the passage, through the window, or a crack in the wall, determined how shadows fell on the subject. In religious painting, God was the universal source of light. In Geert tot Sint Jans’ Nativity at Night, the child Jesus was the source of the light that illuminated everything around him. Varsagod. He dwelt a little longer on Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, pointing out the way the artist had subtly shaded the ears and mouth to effect the mystery smile. Then, he talked about the chiaroscuro in art, photography and the cinema, and talked of a Marisi de Caravaggio, another Michelangelo, as the apostle of light, citing his Matthew trio of Calling Saint Matthew; The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew; and The inspiration of Saint Matthew, in Contralli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. The shadow defines the identity of being. The original cinema, he pointed out, was a play of shadows, where performers and their actions behind a screen came across to the audience as shadows. Plato’s allegory of the cave was shadography, well, oral cinematography… I stood still, not listening. The image of the brother I lost to a car accident soon after the discovery which, had it not been ignored, could have altered the course of history, came back. It dawned on me, all at once, that it was Njinjũ, my little brother, in my village, long ago, who gave me my first lesson in art and film. n (For Mũmbi Wanjikũ Ngũgı̃ ) Cape Town, Table Mountain, South Africa June 11 – 22, 2012 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE My brother quickly announced our real find. White, brown, and black people were equal. Proof. We had shaken hands with white people, and there was not a single difference between their shadows and ours. Ours and theirs were equally dark. This did not wow our listeners. It seemed that people were more interested in our encounter with the white couple than our momentous conclusion. The teacher entered the class. We would learn later that he was a famous film director, an exile who, as a student, had run from the Hungarian revolt in 1956. He spoke English hesitantly, interspersing every other sentence with Varsogod, mycket bra, but it was clear that he was telling us to follow him. We were going to a studio, we thought, our first visit to a real film studio. But the mystery destination deepened, when we went outside the building into the cobbled streets of Stockholm. It was spring. Everybody was dressed in bright colors. After a bit of walking, we entered a gallery, an art museum, not the Hollywood type studio of our dreams. 9 The time came. We stood side by side. Sepulchral silence. Expectations. We had just made a great discovery, we said in unison. Everything carried a shadow. The announcement was greeted with sniggers, and a few, so what? The drama was slipping from us. I responded quickly: Humans, animals, plants, stones and things, were kins: they all had shadows. Children, are you saying that we are stones?