A Walk

Rahima Gambo

This video is no longer available

Rahima Gambo, A Walk (still), 2018.

Artist Cinemas presents A Walk
Rahima Gambo

13 Minutes

Artist Cinemas
Week #2

May 6–12, 2020

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for an online screening of Rahima Gambo’s A Walk (2018), on view from Wednesday, May 6 through Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

A Walk is a psycho-geographical survey from Lagos and Abuja, conceived as an interior cartography mapped onto the external environment traversed by the artist Rahima Gambo. Rahima uses A Walk as a narrative, mobile, and open-ended mechanism that has no beginning, middle, or end, that yields stills, moving images, and an assemblage of found objects sculpted together from objects picked up on her “path.” In the words of writer Emmanuel Iduma, Rahima Gambo’s work results from “wallowing in despair for a year in search of the right way to approach” Gambo’s own return to Nigeria in the wake of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping by Boko Haram. A Walk dwells at the limit of photojournalism, and it is a fragment of a wider practice that includes visiting sites, schools, and locations in Maiduguri that had also been attacked by Boko Haram. With each of Gambo’s visits, “it becomes clearer that the representation of the place and people requires constellational thinking, an orbit of photographs, audio, videos, GIFs, textbook illustrations, installation, and performance.”

A Walk is presented here alongside an interview with the filmmaker by Ogemdi Ude. The film and interview are the second installment of École du soir: Six Films, from Rwanda and Beyond, a program of films, video works, and interviews convened by artist Christian Nyampeta, and inaugurating Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

École du soir will run from April 29 through June 9, 2020, with each film running for one week and featuring an interview with the filmmaker by an invited guest.

Rahima Gambo in Conversation with Ogemdi Ude
Edited by Christian Nyampeta

Ogemdi Ude (OU):
It’s really funny, I was approached to do this interview quite randomly it felt like, but at the same time it is incredibly exciting to have a conversation at the intersection of our respective media, particularly at a time when media are suspended. The media that people are using in their artistic practice, now that they’re confined indoors, are rapidly transforming. For me as a performance artist, I was thinking about your choice of film, the movement of film, and the journey you take your spectators on as a filmmaker. That point of view, that immersion in the outside and in the motion of things through the medium of film was incredibly intriguing. I’m excited for us to talk about things at this intersection while we’re both in similar positions of stillness.

So, the first thing that I wanted to ask you is where you were before quarantine and where you are now? When I say where, I mean where were you in your career and your practice, in yourself? How has that shifted?

Rahima Gambo (RG):
I was incredibly busy, actually. And craving for everything to stop. I actually wanted everything to contract. I’ve been pondering what it means to be in a confined space and trying to find what I call “micro freedoms”—little things such as walking or drawing—especially considering my background, coming from a really conservative Northern Nigerian family. I live in Abuja, a very sleepy town to my mind. One of my desires—and I think I share this with every artist—is freedom, liberation. I’m trying to find moments when I can transcend the limitations imposed on us from outside, even when the outside isn’t so malleable or flexible. So, I move in this small space of Abuja; and I am also drawn to nature and to how nature finds its pathways in incredibly small, confined spaces. As a result, I guess when quarantine happened, I felt almost prepared for this period of isolation and confinement. But it was also really alarming. Because I had been busy before that, doing one thing right after the next.

Your idea of micro freedoms resonates so intensely with me. It’s a strange experience, to know that everything has stopped while not fully understanding the conditions of that halt. What has this time given me? In fact, some of us strongly feel that things have been taken away. Yet, I appreciate how you speak about your preparation and your readiness to stop, to slow down. Do you feel like you are actually leaning into that slowness right now?

Oh, yeah. One of the skills that I was born with—a skill I think most black women have—is the ability to adapt, to lean into things. I see this in the women in my family who develop these separate interior lives—a duality whereby what happens outside may be a bit oppressive to them, and yet the inner lives they maintain are rich and free. I am used to that duality. I might experience some societal barrier, but it might not immediately become a problem in my mind. As a result, it’s not a problem for me to be in one place and not be able to travel or go somewhere. It’s not just about learning or unlearning; there are several definitions, several meanings for what we perceive as a barrier, as confinement or limitation. There are several ways in which people understand and experience those barriers. And maybe sometimes to be free and liberated, you do need some limitations placed on you—they allow you to troubleshoot certain things.

Troubleshooting liberation. You’re pointing to the fact that some people are more prepared for confinement than others. Many have remarked that this period is the “great equalizer.” You often hear assumptions that everyone has time now, that everyone has slowed down, or experiences these conditions, this state. That may be the case, to some extent. It may be one of the most universal experiences we’ve had in our lifetime. But, at the same time, it is revealing that all of those who were prepared for this—all of those for whom quarantine hasn’t shifted their lives so much—were already in states of confinement. Then there are also those who experience this confinement as such a sharp loss or grief. We are witnessing people contending with this grief… Whether or not they are attuned to these conditions of confinement and able to find micro freedoms is, I think, the most glaring characteristic of this moment.

I want to move forward to a question that might be a bit related to what we were speaking of just now: Would you say we are walking right now? Watching your film A Walk and feeling deeply immersed in its movement, I’m wondering if there is an element of walking to this moment, either for you as an individual, or for your immediate group of friends and family, for your neighborhood, for Abuja, for your country—would you say there an element of walking in your lives right now?

Yeah, I mean, walking is very much a transition, going through some sort of passageway. It’s an in-between space. You know, it’s formative. As you walk, you’re becoming something. You’re not quite sure what that is, but you’re trying to be still in the present, to be present in the movement that is happening, and to find a restful place in this transition. It feels very much like an incubation, something that is about to be. What is really alarming, especially in the digital age, is this attempt to mimic the sense that everything is okay, or that everything is normal. “Let’s shift all of our events and all of our working practices online. We can pretend that everything is fine…” Meanwhile, what is really happening around me? What can I see and feel? This fragmentation is disconcerting. It’s urgent that people accept that things are not normal, and allow themselves to rest in this time.

When I started walking, I wanted the ability to lean back and stop everything and stop pretending that I knew what was happening, or stop trying to wrap language around what I’m encountering at a crisis point, and allow things to just be. That is what A Walk is about: stopping everything and looking at the tool I had. In my case it was the camera, and it was highly inadequate compared to what I was experiencing. Artists are receivers of information. We receive everything, and everything passes through us. But then the camera funnels this information, as if there is a barrier between you and, not so much your subject, but rather this experience that you’re having. After a period of time, this sensation felt violent to me, the feeling of a barrier between myself and whatever was happening in Nigeria, or what I was trying to process. I imagine that given you work with direct knowledge as a dancer, as a choreographer, that you are able to skip what I call the middleman or the middle me. You receive and transmit information directly. I did not grow up being in my body at all. The body was very secondary. Whatever I was doing, I was very mind-oriented. It was extremely painful, actually, when I began walking. It felt very painful, slowing down and forcing myself to engage with the space or with the experience I was having. We want things to be fast. Maybe that’s why people prefer running! We want to run so that we don’t really have to be present. For me, walking became a practice that I was trying to understand, and I have tried to use it as a medium for engaging with and understanding the world, for processing things.

The way you speak of stepping into yourself by approaching walking—as a deep engagement with your body that comes from slowing down, and trying to capture the world around you while undertaking what feels like a distinctly different activity—evokes that you might be trying to pause some of the images we see in A Walk. Even when the camera shakes, when the tree is waving in the wind, it appears as though you are searching for a way to hold that image still. Yet, A Walk does not really have an moment of actual stillness. Could you speak more to that element of stopping while still moving?

Indeed, in this stillness, things don’t quite stop. Nothing actually pauses. It’s rather that the awareness of things become heightened. You feel things more. I think that’s what stillness is, because it’s really quite uncomfortable to hold a frame. Photography is all about “capturing” and pulling things in. In contrast, I found a richness to the moving image that is alive, and challenges the very idea of a still image. Photography, and images themselves, have a long history of violence, rooted in the fact that an image cannot speak back to you. Instead, I found an agency or escape door in the moving image. A Walk is not quite video, it’s moving image. It’s not film, it’s moving image. I like this idea of holding the frame and yet, things move in that frame. It’s a slowing down of time.

Could you tell me more about your use of shifting, or “borrowed” perspective? In A Walk you say: “I had a memory. Actually, it was my mother’s memory,” and we see your feet peeking in and out of the frame. How has that borrowed perspective served you? And then how do you see it serving others?

I’m not quite sure what you mean by borrowed perspective, but what I can say is that something happens when you’re walking. It’s a timeless act. You are not quite yourself. Your thoughts and your feelings take a life of their own and merge into some kind of collage. My thoughts might become a vivid image while I’m walking, for example. And yet, my feet remain on the ground and I am in a specific place. Possibly, there’s these two things happening at the same time. I think there’s a moment that happens when walking actually becomes like time travel, and you are no longer here nor there. It’s a transformation and that’s integral to what it means to be human.

Speaking of transformation, I was hoping you could speak more about the soundscape throughout the film, how sometimes we are listening to something that we’re not seeing in front of us.

It comes from the idea of collaging different things together that are happening at the same time. I have this other practice of creating assemblages while I walk by choosing and picking up things to create this—I don’t like the word “document,” but really—document of experience or experiences that I am having.

This collaging aspect makes this thirteen-minute film feel so full. When I got to the end, I felt like I had been to so many places with you. But at the same time, I thought, “Where am I now? Where have I been? Where have I been dropped off?” I was trying to place myself again. Maybe it’s also because I was sitting at my dining-room table trying to figure that out.

Some of those images are from 2016. The film is composed of different moments, up through 2019, from different locations—namely Maiduguri, Abuja, and Lagos. That might be why the film can feel quite dense: because it contains different spaces experienced over a number of years.

When did you finish this draft of the film?

I think it was 2018.

How do you feel about it now, particularly in this online setting, where you’re also reflecting on it and speaking next to it? How are you approaching this reflection? Are there any new ideas arising from this moment? Do you have any difficult feelings re-watching the work, or things that have shifted perspectives on the work you previously held?

I think the idea of jumping through time is important in the work. I recently showed the video in Bamako at the end of 2019 (Bamako Encounters – African Biennale of Photography), without the voiceover. I have two versions of A Walk: this version here, and this other version without the voiceover where you only hear the soundscape. Back then, I presented it with drawings—I called them “walk maps”—alongside the music that I had been listening to while walking, two jazz pieces. These are geographies layered on top of each other, and by geographies, I mean different experiences layered on top of each other. The video itself can be used in different ways, depending on where I am at the time. I’m still inspired by it. A Walk is continuous. I could possibly go back and add things to it. It’s a never-ending movement, a transition.

I have one last question: When speaking about the version of A Walk you presented in Bamako in 2019, you mentioned the method of “map overlaying.” How might you offer directions in a map for someone else who wants to make the same journey, the same walk?

Walking is so personal, yet so universal at the same time. It connects us. No two walks are the same. That’s why each installation I do differs from the other. I did an installation of A Walk in Lagos and it was completely determined by the specificities of that space and who I was at that time, and what my eye was drawn to and where my feet wanted to wander, and my fitness levels. But then, the installation of A Walk in Marrakech was a completely different thing. I started calling it A Walk Sculpture. The walk itself is the thread that joins these disparate objects that I come across, and these disparate encounters. It is that constant, while the place and time are dependent on whatever is happening at that moment. A walk is a document, or an archive of what was happening at that specific time. It’s a mechanism that anyone can use. In fact, I recently did a walk where there were six of us in Abuja. I was wondering, what would happen if I added more limbs, more minds, more experiences? So, walking is not just a solitary activity.

I love what you say about adding more limbs—how can I add more limbs to myself? As a mover, when I think of limbs I think of something disembodied, but at the same time, something deeply personal, in the sense that your relationship to how your arm moves is very different from someone’s relationship to how their arm moves. There are so many tiny personal details in the act of walking that arise: how your arms swing, where your head goes, how you breathe. Thank you for breaking it down into those details, and then also for holistically immersing us in the personal experience of it. Do you have anything else that you might want to share with people who are going to watch A Walk?

A Walk is just a hypersensitive way of being in a place and questioning whatever it is that you’re trying to question. I hate saying this but I am not academic at all, I didn’t come to artistic practice from a literate position. I am learning from experience, from the thoughts I have. I found myself under conditions that pushed me to search for a new language and to put a form around what I was experiencing, or I what I was trying to process. I acknowledge that it is a very playful way—a very naive, and very young way, I think—of trying to understand the world.

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

Africa, Photojournalism, Violence
Return to École du soir: Six Films, from Rwanda and Beyond
Return to Artist Cinemas

Rahima Gambo is a Nigerian multimedia artist and photographer who came to artistic practice by working independently on long-form trans-media documentary projects. Gambo currently explores an expanded moving photography through the narrative and experimental capabilities of “walking” as it intersects with the documentary form, psycho-spiritual-geography, sociopolitics, urban environment, and autobiography.


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