If I Had a Hundred Arms, I Would Do Many Things
An Interview with Werewere Liking
by Christine Cynn
translated by Maboula Soumahoro and Christine Cynn
Werewere Liking in her gallery
In July 2008, I visited the novelist, poet, playwright, painter,
choreographer, and performer Werewere Liking at the cultural arts
center, Ki-Yi Mbock Village, which means "ultimate universal knowledge"
in Bassa, Liking's mother tongue. Located in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire,
Liking co-founded the arts center in 1985. I had planned to invite
Liking to write an essay addressing gender and diaspora—the subjects of
this special S&F Online issue. Liking's striking formal
innovations in literary, performance, and visual arts—and her
collaborative approaches to theater—reflect her commitment to promoting
what she describes as a socially and politically conscious pan-African
aesthetic. However, she asked me to interview her instead.
Two days later, between meetings with other visitors, Liking sat in a
gallery displaying her paintings and African sculpture collection, and I
videotaped her as she talked. During the interview, Liking commented on
the ongoing conflicts around citizenship and national belonging in Côte
d'Ivoire, which she describes as the cultural and economic "capital" of
the region; Liking herself immigrated to Abidjan from Cameroon in the
late 1970s. Her account of histories of migration within sub-Saharan
Africa, and her skepticism about what she characterizes as a certain
oppositional or radical feminism deriving from outside of Africa, not
only expand the terms of analysis of gender and diaspora but also compel
a reevaluation of the founding assumptions about diaspora, gender, and
This interview is broken down into a series of 16 video clips that follow.
For me, the label "Pan-African" implies that we take into account
not only Africa, but also its diasporas. Because the term, "Pan-African"
itself was conceived by Africans from the diaspora. So, it
means including all the worlds born out of Africa. So, we claim them,
but also offer them all we have.
Well, because it's a view that's a conviction for me, that Africa is
rich in its entirety as a continent only in its diversity. Africa's
primary riches are its different cultures, its peoples. The borders that
are there are artificial, but everybody has known that for a long
Note that, in my view, Pan-Africanism doesn't necessarily negate
cultural specificities. Indeed, Pan-Africanism relies on these
specificities to enrich itself. Therefore, for me, to be Pan-African
means to take a wider view. To see beyond existing borders, to see
beyond the more or less incongruous policies that are carried out across
these borders. That's what it is.
Well, because, as you can see, these very borders render spaces
extremely small. They reduce Africa. They weaken it. They prevent the
circulation of vital energies. Consequently, they are a handicap for the
development of this continent. They are in general pejorative. They
detract more than they add. So, I think that we women have more of a
stake in taking a wider view for our children, for our peoples, yes.
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