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Issue: 7.2: Spring 2009
Guest Edited by Christine Cynn and Kim F. Hall
Rewriting Dispersal: Africana Gender Studies

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 studio
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 feminism themselves.

This interview is broken down into a series of 16 video clips that follow.

Clip 1

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.

Clip 2

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 time.

Clip 3

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.

Clip 4

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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© 2009 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 7.2: Spring 2009 - Rewriting Dispersal: Africana Gender Studies