Frieda Ekotto: For an endogenous critique of representations of African lesbian identity in visual culture and literature

Interwiew with Frieda Ekotto by Beti Ellerson

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Frieda Ekotto, Cameroonian, writer, professor of French, comparative literature and Africana studies at the University of Michigan, lives and works in the United States. Her scholarship and creative writing provides an endogenous critique of representations of lesbians in the context of Africa. She explores cinematic representations and lesbian identities of (what she calls African women loving women), and she discusses her current project, a visual philosophic essay, Vibrancy of Silence, about lesbian women who live in Cameroon, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Ghana.

Frieda, you are professor of French, comparative literature and Africana Studies at the University of Michigan in the United States, and you are a writer. Talk about your trajectory – writing, teaching and researching at the intersection of these fields of study?
The question underlying all of my work is: how can we talk about the suffering of others? As an intellectual historian and philosopher with areas of expertise in 20th and 21st-century Anglophone and Francophone literature and in the cinema of West Africa and its diaspora, I concentrate on law, race and LGBTI issues. My primary research to date has focused on how law serves to repress and mask the pain of disenfranchised subjects, and my intention in this work has been to trace what cannot be said in order to address and expose suffering from a variety of angles and cultural intersections and to reassess the position and agency of the dispossessed. 
My examination and attention to suffering has taken me in a variety of directions. In my first scholarly book, Prison Writing and Legal Discourse in Jean Genet (L’Harmattan, 2001), I listen closely to the rhythms and rhetorical patterns in the writings of French prisoners, those delinquents censored by institutional discourses and by a general socialized discrediting of « criminal » voices. In my more recent monograph, What Color is Black? Race and Sex across the French Atlantic (Lexington Press, 2010), I show how the Francophone Atlantic has distinctly shaped notions of race, slavery and colonialism throughout the circum-Atlantic world, and I also examine how the Francophone world provides distinct perspectives and epistemologies on issues that are overlooked in studies that focus uniquely on the Anglophone Atlantic. (…)

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Les images de l'article
© L'Harmattan
© Frieda Ekotto

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