In April 2016 I traveled to southern Ghana. In my short time there I knew I wanted to connect with other feminist artists. Through my work with FAC (Feminist Art Conference) I was connected with Selasie Djameh - a filmmaker and artist based out of Accra. I was very excited to meet her and discuss art in the context of both feminism and Ghana.
A quick aside - The day I interviewed Selasie was the only day that I was truly sick during my trip. I was so sick that I nearly fainted about 5 minutes after we met (it was all very cute). Selasie was so patient and understanding of my (very) week stomach. So a huge thanks to her for being so kind, AND for sharing so much of her amazing work. Okay, on to the interview!
1. What is your main type of art medium?
Film, live action short films.
2. Do you have any formal education in this, and if so, has it helped?
I’m currently in my third year of film school, specializing in Motion Picture Photography (cinematography), which is concerned with camerawork and lighting for film. In my first two years of study, the course was more general, covering all the aspects of filmmaking, from screenwriting, animation, poster design, art direction, directing, sound to editing.
My general film studies has taught me the process of filming, from the writing stage to the editing stage. Most importantly, it has taught me how to write and structure stories as this is the most important part of filmmaking. My education has also taught me how to tell stories visually instead of relying so much on dialogue. It is important to let the film unfold; to show, not tell.
3. How does Feminism inform your work?
Film is a male dominated industry where most of the decision-makers and big wigs are men, there are not many films with female main characters, themes relating to womanhood or female characters who are well-rounded. Hollywood in particular has this problem and the trend can also be seen in many mainstream Ghanaian films. Most of the female characters in films are reduced to roles such as the love interest, who’s main goal is to find a partner or get married.
I try to do my part to shift perceptions about women and to promote better representations of women in film. I like to tackle subjects relating to the experience of womanhood, such as menstruation and sisterhood. I like to make films about women, which focus on women living their everyday lives, simple stories and perspectives which seem to be lost in the film industry. Not all my films will be about women, but because of this awareness, I try to represent women in a realistic way.
When putting together my film crews, I always make an effort to seek out women, because there are a lot of skilled and talented women out there who do not get enough opportunities to hone their skills. A lot of female filmmakers (editors, sound-persons, cinematographers etc) are not as bold as their male counterparts in seeking opportunities and so do not have as much experience, which has the knock on effect of people thinking female filmmakers are less skilled than their male counterparts.
4. What is something you wish westerners knew about Feminism or Art in Ghana (or both)?
When it comes to Ghanaian art, you tend to see a lot of art featuring women—mostly women carrying things on their heads. In many rural areas where there is no constant water supply, women are the ones who go out to to fetch water, usually travelling long distances and spending hours per day doing this. Women and girls lose a lot of time fetching and carrying water which they could be using for other activities.
Images of women carrying things on their heads is meant to represent the strength and sacrifice of women, but it has become such a repeated stereotype it has now become meaningless. A lot of artists paint these pieces because they know the is what tourists want to see and not because it is necessarily what they want to express. Even though these images are supposed to represent the strength of women, they end up reinforcing gender stereotypes about African women and upholding the singular image of the struggling, self-sacrificing African woman, which is a common Western perception.
These kinds of images also normalize the idea that women, especially African women are supposed to be self-sacrificing. There are a lot of different types of art in Ghana, I encourage Westerners to also patronize art that is not made solely for tourists.
Ghana is only one country in Africa out of 55, we have our own culture, traditions and way of life which is quite different even from our neighbouring countries. The images you see of Africa are often skewed and not entirely representative. In Ghana, we have women who are married as children, women who are deprived of education, women who are housewives and also women who are doctors, lawyers, CEOs, women who are empowered to make their own life choices and choose their own paths. We have the whole spectrum of experiences, so do not believe the single image that is presented to you by the media. Although we do have problems with gender equality in Ghana, a lot of progress is being made. Each year more and more girls are attending school and doing even better than boys, rates of female genital mutilation are low and there is a national campaign to end child marriage. To get better insight into whats happening here, consume media and art made by people from the continent, from the different countries.
5. Where do you hope to take your art in the future?
I will keep making short films and experimenting different types of films, especially art films and surrealist films. In the next few years I would like to make some feature films and have them shown around the world. I am open and interested in collaborating with other female filmmakers, particularly other African women in the film industry.
6. Where can people find you online?
(All photos here are property of Selasie Djameh, and are still images from the films linked above)