Naked Spaces: Living Is Round. 1985. Mauritania/Mali/Burkino Faso/Togo/Benin/ Senegal. Directed by Trinh T. Minh-Ha. Narrated by Minh-Ha, Barbara Christian, Linda Peckham. 16mm. 135 min.
This first feature by the Vietnamese writer and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-Ha weaves footage she filmed across rural West Africa while teaching in Dakar into an impactful, elegant treatise on representation. Upending documentary conventions, she assembles images and narration asynchronously, creating an elliptical, sensuous portrayal of domestic spaces and their inhabitants. “Every house in this film,” wrote Minh-Ha, “is at the same time a tool, a sanctuary, and a work of art.” The narration—by three women, theoreticians of cultural studies, each with a perspective on image-making and otherness—heightens this counter-ethnographic work’s sense of open-endedness. Writing at the time, the critic Berenice Reynaud reflected that the filmmaker’s “precise, fluid camera work, the density of her images, the beauty of her visual compositions result directly from ethical choices.” Steeped in ideas of intimacy and ritual, the questions Minh-Ha poses around power relations, knowledge, and art remain essential today.