• Representing the “Other:” Notes on Trinh Minh-ha’s Reassamblage

     By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    In terms of ethnographic film, many of the images presented in Trinh Minh-ha’s Reassamblage are conventional. For instance, shots of naked women, babies, women working and food preparation. At the same time, however, Trinh subverts what is considered “traditional” ethnographic film. Trinh asks, “what can we expect from ethnology?” and destabilizes not only what we expect from Reassemblage, but also what we are offered. Trinh does this with sound, narrative voice, and the use of silences. Trinh’s image is dark, with a muted colour palette and a sort of sandy composition. Another way in which Trinh challenges the tradition of ethnographic film is through repetition of statements. Trinh’s use of repetition of phrases like “something else i’ve lost,” “a film about what,” “speak near by” and “first create needs, then help,” draws attention to the norms and expectations of conventional ethnographic filmmaking as an objective and neutral form of description or recording. Trinh stresses the impossibility of assigning and imposing meaning to signs and symbols, which is why the narration never quite matches up with the image. Since there isn’t much narration, and it appears in a fragmented way, Trinh is able to emphasis certain phrases and ideas throughout the use of repetition. For instance, by repeating that she does not intend to speak about, but “speak near by,” Trinh shows how the film is told through her eyes, through her lens, and that there is no such thing as objective truth, or “flat anthropological fact.” Trinh’s use of repetition, in a manner that evokes poetry, also itself subverts the presentation of the film. Certainly, Trinh herself is recuperating, collecting and preserving the phrases she chooses to repeat. It has to be that the possible power disparities between Trinh and her objects of study (which they were indeed presented as objects, not subjects) are raised. Furthermore, the irony in the film may not be fully discernible all viewers. This is very similar to the Into the Heart of Africa exhibit, curated by Jeanne Cannizzo, at the Royal Ontario Museum, which was meant to criticize how Canada (mostly, white Canada) views Africa and attack colonialism. However, the black community in Toronto was outraged and viewed this museum exhibit as overtly racism. Both Cannizzo and Trinh’s work draw attention to the powers (and impossibilities) of representation of an Other.