Colonizing Gestures and the Colonial Gaze in Images of Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea’s first published comics artist, Nzé Esono Ebalé, is internationally recognized for his art and activism. His latest graphic narrative collaboration with Spanish journalist Pere Ortín, Diez mil elefantes (2022), focuses on the memory of Spain’s equatorial African colony. It reimagines and remediates Alex Guimerá’s 2015 docufiction film, Un día vi 10.000 elefantes—itself a remediation of an unpublished novel by prolific Equatoguinean author Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel. Diez mil elefantes portrays documentary filmmaker Manuel Hernández Sanjuán’s 1944 expedition to Spanish Guinea through the testimonio of Angono Mba, his (fictional) Guinean porter. The narrative interrogates colonial memory and denounces the physical, racial, and epistemic violence of the colonial project. Because Ávila Laurel’s creative involvement is not credited, however, the production of the comic unfortunately reproduces the very colonial logic it purports to criticize. I attend to this tension as I analyze the comic’s juxtaposition of the practices and technologies of the colonial gaze—specifically the impulse to possess and capture through written word and film—with oral storytelling, magical-real imagery, and Esono’s fantastical color palette. Esono’s mixed-media panels construct a redemptive decolonial archive that celebrates non-Western ways of seeing and knowing; nevertheless, the graphic novel is scaffolded by a harmful reenactment of extractive colonial practices. To grapple with this contradiction, I ask: does this instance of intellectual imperialism undermine the work’s message, or does it further underscore the importance of publishing, reading, and teaching decolonial works—in all their complexity—in hopes that future appropriative acts might be prevented?
Introduced by Kristen Joy Owens (Librarian for African American and Black Diaspora Studies, NYU)