Critics’ Picks

Still from Muxima, 2005.

New York

Alfredo Jaar

Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
528 West 26th Street
February 3–March 18, 2006

The trick for an outsider depicting Africa is to not boil it down to a sum of clichés: poverty, violence, the well-rehearsed fallout of colonial rule. Jaar avoids this in his thirty-six minute film about Angola, a former Portuguese colony, by entering through the portal of the region’s music. Muxima, 2005, takes its name from an Angolan folksong whose title means “heart” in Kimbundu. Six different versions of the song help structure the film, which is divided into ten cantos. Moving like a written epic, the film opens with a poem by Agostinho Neto, a poet and first president of Angola (1975–79). An image of children touching their hearts is followed by a trip down the Kwanza River, an old Portuguese military fort decorated with opulent tiles and crumbling conquistador statuary, a hunt for landmines, close-ups of postrevolutionary street signs (Avenida Lenin, Rue Comandante Che Guevara, Rue Salvador Allende), water eddying around an oil rig, and an AIDS patient. Building a portrait of the region through fragments, the parts add up to a whole that is, thanks to the careful marriage of sound and image, deeply and viscerally moving.