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Black Dreams at Sea: The Sardine Fisherman’s Funeral and An Opera of the World

Elizabeth Alexander, poet, essayist, playwright, scholar, and president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Manthia Diawara, writer, cultural theorist, film director, scholar, and professor of comparative literature and cinema studies and director emeritus of the Institute of African American Affairs, New York University

Painter Ficre Ghebreyesus (1962–2012) from Asmara, Eritrea, and filmmaker Manthia Diawara from Bamako, Mali, meet metaphorically in this program focusing on their work. Political refugees, activists, scholars, and storytellers, both men settled in the United States and found themselves working odd jobs, joining the African American community of poets and each digging into his own artistic practice. Ghebreyesus’s epic painting The Sardine Fisherman’s Funeral combines symbols, historical references, and iconography from different cultures to express a depth of feeling for the power of the sea. Diawara’s film An Opera of the World (2017), based on the African opera Bintou Were, mines the Malian filmmaker’s own migration experience against the backdrop of recent tragedies among refugees on the Mediterranean Sea. In this post-screening conversation held on March 23, 2019, at the National Gallery of Art, Manthia Diawara and Elizabeth Alexander discuss and contrast Ghebreyesus’s painting with Diawara’s filmic inquiry into the power of bearing witness.