Manifesta purposely strives to keep its distance from what are often seen as the dominant centres of artistic production, instead seeking fresh and fertile terrain for the mapping of a new cultural topography.

André Acquart, FR

Jean Genet’s play The Blacks is a manifestation of his sustained interest in and identification with Black lives, which developed during his various stints in jail. The first version of the play was published in 1958, and it was staged the following year in Paris at Théâtre de Lutèce by Roger Blin with scenography by André Acquart (1922-2016, FR). The Black actors of Compagnie des Griots played whites by wearing caricatural clay and paper half-masks made by Claude Acquart according to his father’s designs, which were in turn inspired by African masks depicting European figures.

As the director, Blin made no attempt to assimilate the actors’ accents to Île-de-France French, but tried to achieve a composite accent for tackling Genet’s long poetic constructions. Genet originally had his Black characters speak in a poetic and well-mastered French, the language of their colonisers. In his own words: ‘Before saying such remarkable, such exceptional things, I could not express them in anything other than a language recognisable to the dominant class. It was necessary to have those whom I refer to as “my torturers” listen to me. So I had to attack them in their own language.’