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Unfolding Narratives 2: Judah Attille

A collage-style image showcasing Judah's photograph, which features doll characters.
A collage-style image showcasing Judah's photograph, which features doll characters.
Work: 'Charlotte' by Judah Attille. Visual identity by Jens Wolter.
Written by
Chloe Murphy
Published date
08 March 2021

At London College of Communication, our research community is home to world-renowned practitioners and theorists who make a vital contribution to our creative culture through a range of activities such as collaborations, partnership projects and doctoral work.

Our second doctoral work-in-progress exhibition, Unfolding Narratives 2, highlights 7 of our PhD students at various stages in their academic journey. Connecting conceptual thinking with practice through explorations of themes such as the body, culture, identity, gender, race, ethics and narrative, this exhibition aims to celebrate the emergence of new and compelling work while inviting wider audience engagement and feedback.

To mark the launch of Unfolding Narratives 2, we caught up with our exhibiting students to explore their practice, current projects, and creative journeys so far.

Judah Attille

Filmmaker Judah Attille's work explores ongoing research and experimentation across moving image production. Her doctoral project, Africandescence, aims to expand the view of a contested 'historical avant-garde' in British film culture by interrogating concepts of narrative time and cinematic time, with particular focus on British independent films scoped through the women’s rights movement, Black political thought, and the potential of formal avant-garde tropes in lighting, framing and editing to evoke intimacy.

We talked to Judah about the inspiration behind Africandescence, the safe space of narrative time, and the importance of forging creative networks.

Student work which uses plastic dolls.
Image credit: Charlotte - Judah Attille.

Have you always had a passion for your field of study, or is it something you moved to over time?

Since the release of my film Dreaming Rivers (Sankofa Film and Video, 1988), my passion has, for many, many years, located me in the tantalising position of wanting to make a triptych of 3 films on the theme of intimacy.

The ongoing passion, this illusive ambition, now has a chance to become manifest in my PhD research project, Africandescence.

Is there a central ethos, theme or message to your work and your practice?

Africandescence is an argument for the inclusion of women of African descent within a consideration of avant-garde film history in the UK. The proposition looks at British films that have been referred to as 'avant-garde' in the literature, then narrows the enquiry to films in that genre directed by women.

The years of particular interest to my project are from 1983 to 1988, a period in which the founding members of the ACTT Workshop, Sankofa Film and Video (SF&V) - Martina Attille, Maureen Blackwood, Robert Crusz, Isaac Julien and Nadine Marsh-Edwards - produced films with British black women as protagonists for advancing narratives about nation, gender and sexual identity. The films also respond to formal questions of aesthetics and audience pleasure.

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process begins with reading narrative fiction, because literature is an entertaining and accessible way to access difficult social scenarios. The author's skill as a writer, and the ability to craft and hold imaginary space, is what I experience in reading literature and film.

I believe narrative time, at its best, to be a safe space where readers and viewers can trust the process while experiencing difficult topics. The entanglement of history and memory is of particular interest to me as a filmmaker because filmmaking is time-based and dream-inducing.

My contribution to knowledge in British independent film culture is to expand the framing of the ‘historical avant-garde’ because we can and should adjust the boundaries of our thinking about film history and modernity.

— Judah Attille

What inspired your PhD project, and what do you aim to achieve?

My film practice aims to solve problems that I anticipate in telling stories about sensitive issues. The vulnerable debut novel, Je suis Martiniquaise by Mayotte Capécia (1948) is set in Martinique during the years leading up to the US intervention in WW2. It is the inspiration for my sustained desire to enter a story of intimacy and sexual interdependency within a colonial socio-economic setting, and features a controversial account of a relationship between a French naval officer and a woman from Martinique.

The struggle for female sexual and creative agency is an ongoing issue in contemporary life and for female artistic agency. The images submitted to Unfolding Narratives 2 represent critical play and release at the intersection of art and social science. The materials used are ubiquitous. The graphic order of their use and application are conceptual citations for a speculative fantasy on an intimate theatre of war to be integrated into later moving image work.  

Psychiatrist Frantz Fanon is relevant to the sustained relevance of Capécia’s novel and to my argument for a consideration of British black female sexual and creative agency in avant-garde films. Fanon’s legacy is revered as one of the leading patriarchs of colonial and post-colonial political thought, and his book Peau noire masques blancs (1952) uses extended passages from Je suis Martiniquaise to evidence what he summarises as the ‘corruption’ of Mayotte Capécia as both a protagonist within the novel and as the author of what he reads as autobiography.

My contribution to knowledge in British independent film culture is to expand the framing of the ‘historical avant-garde’ because we can and should adjust the boundaries of our thinking about film history and modernity. By conceptually situating white male patriarchs within the socio-sexual proximity of British black female protagonists, a deeper understanding of British black female performativity is possible.

Student work which uses fashion collages.
Image credit: Rear Up - Judah Attille.

Why did you decide to study for your PhD at UAL?

I decided to take my PhD at UAL because it is a centre of excellence for higher education in the arts. LCC in particular has a wide variety of teaching and learning opportunities across analogue and digital media, making it attractive as a site for developing ideas about how moving image intersects with other visual media.

When my new Director of Studies, Carol Tulloch, joined my supervision team following William Raban's retirement, I had to register with Chelsea College of Arts for this, my final year. The handover was flawless because of shared values by both professors in their thinking about arts practice and process. These values are also shared by the professionals in my supervision team, Pratap Rughani and Kim Noce, who are both at LCC.

What have been the highlights of your experience so far?

There have been many highlights in my research journey. One of the most important continues to be making connections with other researchers through common interests in our practice.

I'm currently working in a team with 3 other researchers on Invitations, a podcast series to be launched by TECHNECAST Podcast later in the year. Each of us has invited someone working in our field of enquiry into a conversation, and listening to each recording's singularity within the unity of the first iteration of the project is great: great because we are managing production outcomes and problem solutions together. This will remain evidence of our efforts for others who are interested in embarking on similar projects.

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