Nicola Lauré al-Samarai
Reference text Piper
|I am many
Belinda Kazeem, 2012
On a subway train, a person is wearing big, dark glasses. The person she is holding hands with has asked her several times today if it is really necessary to walk round in sunglasses the whole time. “It is necessary,” came the reply. “A matter of survival.” That was all she said. And now there she stands, in among the other people, her gaze fixed straight ahead. The person has been using this strategy for some years now. Quite a clever trick. She copied it from an eight-year-old child. It serves her well when dealing with other people, with their stares. It helps her to nip the desires of the others in the bud. Their desire to stretch out their hands, swift as an arrow, to grab her hair, to paw her. The trick allows her to erect a stare-proof wall—against the never-ending questions and unwanted attempts to make contact that disturb her daily routine. Some days, the person combines the sunglasses with a T-shirt bearing the following message:
“Are you pigeonholing me? Are you indulging specific notions of who or what I supposedly am? Have you stopped to think that these notions belong to YOU alone? Even if you share them with a great many other people, these fantasies have nothing whatsoever to do with me. It would be best if you kept your eyes off me. Take a look at yourself for a change.”
A person stands at the buffet, sipping a drink. Although she is looking at a picture, she notices that those around her are looking at her. She is sick of being stared at, appraised, categorized. By people whose eyes reflect a mixture of opinions, prejudices, and assertions. All these attributions are so old that generations before her could describe them in detail.
In the course of the evening, a few brave individuals will dare to approach her. They tell her a lot of personal stuff. Too much. About their work, their political commitments, blah blah blah. Things she doesn’t want to know. During these conversations, her interlocutors’ eyes always rest on her just a little too long, as if waiting for some kind of encouragement or absolution that would be granted if she found them to her liking. When the person talking to her launches into a stream of prejudice, to which the others present nod their approval without batting an eyelash, the person knows that she was inwardly prepared for this moment, that she has in fact been waiting for it ever since she set foot on the premises. The moment when the mask of political correctness falls and the centuries-old abyss behind it opens up.
She takes a last sip from her glass, slowly takes a pack of small white cards from her pocket, hands them out, and walks away, her head held high:
“You presumably haven’t noticed that your eyes rest on me in a way that is unpleasantly familiar. That you are treading the well-worn path of a tradition that has deep roots here. You have decided to keep this tradition of exclusion alive. Yes, it is a decision. Your decision. But don’t forget: I’m not what you imagine. I am many.”
A person stands in the rooms of a museum. After prolonged indecision, she has made up her mind to visit the exhibition.  It is about someone who was here before her. Someone with whom she has much in common. After a few minutes, she is finding it hard to breathe, as if they had placed a noose round her neck. She finds herself confronted with a crazy amount of pictures, objects, and texts that describe her, once again, in an excluding manner. In this light, there is little consolation in the voices at the end of the exhibition whose experiences she shares. Amid this cabinet of stereotypes, she herself has long since become an exhibit. That is the only way to interpret the stares of the other visitors. Finally, when a woman approaches her and asks “Where are you from?”, she has had enough. She leaves the other woman standing there, goes to the visitors’ book, and leaves the following message:
“In this exhibition, I and many others were not considered as visitors. Once again, a certain group of people are invited to talk in a voyeuristic and exoticizing manner about the so-called others. This gaze has been cultivated for centuries. And you as those in positions of responsibility have once again decided to uphold it. In doing so, you automatically assume that I will willingly make myself the object of your imagining. I hereby reject this tacit demand. And I am many.”
Production Note 1
In terms of color, dark tones dominate. Rather than giving pale areas, faces, and objects added brightness, radiance, and thus dominance, they should be perceived as disruptive, blinding factors in the darkness. The precise description of the space is given by the text spoken by a voice off. The image is at odds with what the voice is saying, as the pictures tell a different story that runs below the spoken level: although the spoken text tempts the viewer to conclude otherwise, our main characters are not victims. On the contrary, they are clever, quite cunning observers, like tricksters  who draw part of their strength from the knowledge that they are many and not alone.
Even if the others think they are the only observers (Scene 1 and Scene 2), the aim is to depict the fact that they, too, are constantly being observed and studied. On the visual level this means that we look not at the main characters but out into the room from their viewpoint, observing. When the cards are being handed out and when confronting the other subway travelers with the T-shirt, the camera therefore continues to focus mainly on the faces—of those confronted, not of those handing out the cards.
This observing and being observed is underlined by the camerawork. Just as the eyes of the main character go back and forth, scanning to see who is looking, then observing in their own turn, our camera also navigates to and fro. Consequently, some pictures of rooms or other people are blurred—in the rush there is no time to focus. This is particularly important in Scene 3: although we don’t show the cabinet of stereotypes, the camerawork and image speed clearly reflect the torture to which the main character is subjected. At the same time, it reflects the way she derives strength from the certainty of not being alone, the strength to make her entry in the visitors’ book. The rhythm of the images results from the main character’s heartbeat. Breathing in, breathing out, that is the basic rhythm of the pictures.
A person lies on a couch in the living room. She is dreaming of spaces and times which—here at least—have yet to come. Who knows if they ever will. That’s not what dreaming is about. It’s about the power. The immeasurable power that springs from just imagining.
In her dream, a person, generations after her, is sitting in a public square and enjoying the first rays of springtime sunshine. When she looks up at those around her, she notices two people approaching another person in a way that makes her prick up her ears. She stands up to see more. And very soon she does indeed witness the two people swearing coarsely at the other person, threatening violence. The person smiles at the thought that this scene will not remain without consequences—for the attackers of course. She calls the Discrimination Busters, who arrive in the square seconds later, separate the attackers from the other person, administer first aid. And she nods, as if to confirm to previous generations that something really has changed. Not of its own accord, of course. Only through the commitment of those who came before her.
Production Note 2
We begin with the main character and look through her eyes into the living room. Although the dream is not shown, the viewer has access to it via the voice off. While the spoken text is running, the camera, as the eyes of the main character, looks around the living room. Its attention is repeatedly caught by objects, such as the framed picture of Fanny Lou Hamer, under which is written: “Nobody is free, until everybody is free.”  Audre Lorde’s book Zami, lying face down on the desk.  The bogolan cloth hanging on the wall like a painting. With the sentence “The person smiles at the thought …” we hear the opening bars of Ursula Rucker’s Libations and the Discrimination Busters enter the square:
“In these days and times, expressly, I feel need to call on our ancestors, our forebears, speak their names, give thanks, pour a little out for them that fought for our freedom, promoted peace, resisted, challenged our ideas, about words, sounds, images, movement—movement …” 
The Discrimination Busters are the only element of the dream that is depicted, realized as animated action figures. Models and motifs for the development of the Discrimination Busters figures are Assata Shakur, Eryka Badu, Ursula Rucker, braids and cornrows, Grace Jones, Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Ike Ude, Kente, Sustah Girl—Queen of the Black Age,  Malcolm X, Audre Lorde, Ozwald Boateng, Queen Nzinga, Dutch Wax, Fela Kuti, Cornel West, Miriam Makeba.
What might first aid mean in the case of discrimination? How can the measures taken by the Discrimination Busters be presented visually without depicting the “victims”? Fundamental questions of this kind must be addressed by the director.
Production Note 3
Scene 5 works with the full spectrum of earthy colors, reflected into the whole room from the clay being worked. Our focus lies on the hands of the main character that are shown shaping the clay. The camera concentrates on the turning of the potter’s wheel, the image gradually blurs and becomes visual noise. With the final sentence, “I am many,” the screen goes black. Ursula Rucker’s song “A letter to a sista friend” begins, the screen stays black until the end of the song.  As the last sound fades, the black image also disappears.
From individual unease to knowledge for collective use. This movement connects all of the scenes presented. The main characters, and with them the viewer, realize that in knowledge of experiences shared with many lies the strength to verbalize these experiences, to rethink them, and to develop new tools for dealing with them. Such knowledge is passed on through a wide variety of channels and flows into the development of new tools. The number of visual references to activists, artists, musicians, thinkers, etc. signals to the viewer that the knowledge in question is a huge quantity, best depicted as a hard drive capable of storing millions of terabytes. This hard drive is many-layered and full of heterogeneous opinions, connected by the will to develop ideas devoted to liberation from dominant categorizations and the related exclusions.
A person works a lump of clay. After a search that has taken her through various times and spaces, she has realized that she faces an arsenal of excluding structures and traditions. They are embedded in society, serving as a base and framework. At the same time, the person knows she always has access to numerous traditions that resolutely resist this, traditions that have been developed and continue to be developed by many.
The lump of clay between her fingers takes shape, rings form, distorting into ellipses a few rotations later. The person carries on working, as if in a trance, letting her innermost self flow into the clay and letting the clay flow into her. Now she is concerned with far more than the establishment of traditions of resistance. Although necessary, resistance has too often left her feeling drained of strength. It is about more than defending, parrying, striking back. She is reclaiming her life. Conquering free spaces that have never been accorded her by others. She has ceased to wait for absolutions and concessions. Now the person allows herself to set her own priorities, and these priorities do not lie in the areas assigned to her. She is building and working on a mode of being that resists the possibility of being pinned down. The person knows that it is essential to free oneself of preconceptions, both those imposed on the individual by society and those she has seemingly adopted of her own free will.
The lump of clay rotates on the wheel. Paying respect to her own inner voice, the person starts to work it again. She feels the moisture on her skin, the coolness on her fingernails, as she enjoys the game in which there is no foreseeable result.
“And you? Just carry on trying to outrun me, pin me down, fix me. Whatever you do. I am many.”
Belinda Kazeem is a cultural theorist and writer based in Vienna.
Edited by: Jo Schmeiser, Sabine Rohlf
Translated from the German by Nicholas Grindell
1) “Angelo Soliman – Ein Afrikaner in Wien,” shown at the Wien Museum from September 29, 2011, through January 29, 2012, curated by Philipp Blom and Eva-Maria Orosz.
2) I am referring here to the figure of the trickster as s/he appears in Yoruba mythology. S/he can slip into different bodies, genders, and roles. S/he is smart and often exploits this to his/her own advantage. One of the best-known animal embodiments of the trickster is Àjàpá the tortoise. See for example: Oyekan Owomoyela, Yoruba Trickster Tales, (Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1997)
4) Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography, (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1982)
5) Ursula Rucker, 2006, Libations
6) Sustah Girl Queen of the Black Age is a Black female comic character created by Turtel Onli and Cassandra Washington. “She is a direct descendant of the great African queen Nzinga, and possesses ‘the powers of roots, the spirits, intelligence, flight, great strength and the protection of ju-ju skin.’ Apparently you don’t want to mess with this Sustah!” In: Damian Duffy, John Jennings (eds.), Other Heroes: African American Comic Book Creators, Characters and Archetypes, Art Exhibition Catalog, Lulu.com 2010
7) Ursula Rucker, 2001, featuring Vicki Miles, Letter To A Sister Friend