Marie-Josèphe Angélique is the name of a black slave in New France (Montreal, Canada,1734), who was tortured, hanged and burned down to ashes. She was found guilty with setting a fire, burning down much of what is now known as Old Montreal. Author Denyse Beaugrand-Champagne claims the fire was likely accidental while Afua Cooper championed the thesis that Angélique did start the fire, undermining the slave system. As no consensus has been reached, her story seems to be rather a reflection about internalized class, gender and race, than a factual analysis of the crime. The conflicting interpretations of Marie-Angélique’s case are then mostly a reflection of our own racial anxieties. As we usually encounter the past mediated either through curatorial interventions or academic scholarship, I decided to question it by using instead found footage and subtitling as modes of investigation. I’m seeking for emergent metaphors of identity, gender and race to emerge by re-formulating the archive as a site of active engagement.
My video piece uses the case of the hanging of Marie-Angélique as an investigation of postcolonial politics of memory, cultural identity and cultural translation, examining the dynamics of the black experience as a hybrid negotiation between displaced collective memory and racialised political history. Through the reinvention of a black women having a white skin, the video piece not only puts into question the racial and historical tensions surrounding the Marie Angelique conviction, but also raises key historical concerns underlining identity formation by casting racial fixity as an habit that is part of the racist fabric of our everyday. By exploring shameful and displaced collective memory juxtaposed with racialised political history, the video piece attempts to erase epidermalised difference by presenting an experience of the body and the face as fields of possibility enhancing our monolithic understanding of a racialised self. Employing the notion of facialisation by Deleuze, my video piece makes the argument that our habit of associating epidermalised difference with identity, positions facialisation as a common monolithic racist figure complicit in nation-state and identity formation.