Mireille Ngatsé lived for several years in the Maison Tropicale in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. The small aluminum house built from a kit of metal parts was designed by Jean Prouvé as a housing prototype for French colonial officials stationed in Africa. Ms. Ngatsé described the house as comfortable, even though it lacked electricity and running water. She loved the fresh air and light penetrating the round blue windows. One day, four French men came to Brazzaville, and took the Maisons Tropicales away in containers. Today, Mireille Ngatsé sees her house in a catalogue, and reads about its exhibition around the world as a precious art object.
Manthia Diawara’s documentary Maison Tropicale brings to life the hidden stories and memories of those left behind in Africa when the Maisons Tropicales were removed. The film complements Ângela Ferreira’s artistic project on the Maison Tropicale, both of which were featured at the Venice Biennale. Maison Tropicale is a postcolonial excavation into African identity, art, and the notion of cultural patrimony.
A native of Mali, Manthia Diawara is the Director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs and the Director of the Africana Studies Program at New York University. He collaborated with Ngugi wa Thiong’o in making the documentary film Sembene Ousmane: The Making of the African Cinema. Most recently he directed Edouard Glissant, Maison Tropicale, Who’s Afraid of Ngugi?, Bamako Sigi-kan, Conakry Kas, Diaspora Conversations and In Search of Africa. Diawara is the author of We Won’t Budge: An African Exile in the World (2003), Black-American Cinema: Aesthetics and Spectatorship (1993), African Cinema: Politics and Culture (1992), and In Search of Africa (1998). He has published widely on the topic of film and literature of the Black Diaspora.
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