Excerpts from the essay “Witnessing and Community-Making Bouchra Khalili's Essay Films.” in: Art Papers 43, No. 2, Fall 2019.
Read the full essay online.
""Who is the witness? The one that still speaks beyond death? The one who speaks for him and for those who can’t speak anymore? And those who are silenced?” These questions surface directly and indirectly in Bouchra Khalili’s essay film Twenty-Two Hours (2018). Moving beyond the genre of documentary, the French-Moroccan artist’s 43-minute essay film revolves around a historical episode: Jean Genet’s two-month visit to the US in spring 1970 in support of the Black Panther Party (BPP).
French poet and playwright Genet repeatedly stood in support of social movements during the late 1960s and 1970s. His solidarity with the BPP and subsequently with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and his sympathy with the liberation struggles of the German Red Army Faction, offer only some of the evidence needed to understand Genet’s self-proclaimed passage from intellectual to activist.
It seems that the figure of the intellectual as outside of society (Genet, who continuously framed himself as a militant or vagabond) has, in more recent practices, morphed into that of a collaborator or facilitator. Instead of disassembling the public sphere and its institutions, artist Bouchra Khalili’s essayism and Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s investigations are concerned with assembling communities."