On its own, logic cannot unfailingly be used to educate people. Like numbers and charts, these methods of representation lack direct, visceral connection with the individual, who might have little or no relation to those facts. This is where artists take hold of the limits of rationality. Masters of storytelling and emotional representation, artists disrupt our common logical understanding by sinking into our personal field of feelings and subjectivity. It is with such intention that Sirah Nying, twenty-four-year-old neo-graduat, visual storyteller and producer based in Zurich, decided to convey a message of great urgency to the world: the everyday struggles against racism and microaggression. The outcome of such intent became the core focus of her final bachelor film project “White Eyes, Black Skin” (from the German title “Weisse Augen, schwarze Haupt”), co-produced by SFR (Swiss Radio and Television).
Although Sirah relates to the topic of everyday racism herself, she found other voices willing to speak up. “White eyes, black skin” is a video triptych that encapsulates the story of three BIPOC protagonists – whose backgrounds, life stages, and circumstances are seemingly distinct– who narrate their own personal stories of being a black person in a white-dominated society.
Let me quickly point out something here: I wrote “dominated” to describe a condition, not oppression. This word is used as a description of a society that consists primarily of people born and raised in the West, therefore white or Caucasian, just as it is “normal” to be. However, it is crucial to point out that our external appearance, like the color of one’s skin, does not stop at a simple physiological trait, but rather extends into complex and socio-politically, culturally and economically favoured relationships. And this can manifest into oppressive, privilege-driven biased thinking and behavior towards a specific group of human beings. “I didn’t want to have a preconceived notion of how I wanted [the project] to look and then compress my protagonists into that. I wanted the story to develop organically from what they had to say”.
“I wanted the story to develop organically from what they had to say”.
Genuity is in fact a strong component of her work and alongside a more speculative approach, Sirah opted for experimental storytelling: not completely fictional nor entirely documentary but rather a mix of visual staging and straightforward narrative evidence. This dualistic mix invites the viewer to think and rationalize truthful facts, but mostly to feel and personally interpret the story, without stepping away from the reality of the protagonists’ experience.
The creation process unfolded in a very authentic and collaborative way. With emotions at its core, Sirah took inspiration from her protagonists’ stories and built the visual world. Before anything was defined, she would engage them in the conversation and work together towards common ground. For some, this did not come as an easy task as they were confronted for the first time, with creating an image to visually represent a feeling, something uncommon for those unfamiliar with creative practices. “Every time I portray somebody, I always want to do justice to them, to be truthful to their person.” Each protagonist felt fully represented in the final outcome of Sirah’s work, and perhaps also somehow relieved in seeing the bigger picture of an incredibly personal story in a new and clearer light. A toast to art and its power, dear readers.
“Every time I portray somebody, I always want to do justice to them, to be truthful to their person”.
Josephine | Episode 1
Josephine is the first protagonist of the work. In spite of her young age, Sirah was impressed by how “reflective and thoughtful” she was about the unseen yet overpowering problem of everyday racism that had already shaped her in profound ways. Water was therefore chosen to represent such a collective yet personal burden. (Original language: Swiss German with English subtitles)
Joel | Episode 2
In this story, anger is the primary feeling according to Joel’s experience. Already being a model and a dancer, Joel knew how to move almost naturally as he twisted in the red sheets, allegorically interpreting his suffocating rage. (Original language: Swiss German with English subtitles).
Nurudeen | Episode 3
The last and oldest protagonist is Jonas. After he left Ghana, his home country, three decades ago, he settled in Zurich. “This story was the hardest to relate to,” explains Sirah, “and the most challenging to create”. However, the message was, from my point of view, successfully delivered: using techniques of light, shadow, and skewed perspectives, Sirah intentionally depicted Jonas’ feelings of being subjected to dehumanizing looks which are physically harmless, but emotionally agonizing. (Original language: Swiss German with English subtitles).
What is peculiar in this work – and what struck me personally,– is that the chosen storytelling approach does not follow the typical structural flowchart that one can find in more traditional films: when watching the tapes, you yourself might have perceived a lack of closure or a sudden ending, or perhaps a sense of discomfort and emotional amputation. If so, Sirah’s intention was then achieved. The choice of not furnishing a closing act deprives the viewer of having resolution, exactly what BIPOC people experience with the never-ending problem of racism and micro-aggression in their daily life. Sirah’s professors criticized this choice, but they couldn’t neglect the effectiveness of the result.
A CREATOR WITH DARING VISIONS
“By all means, the project wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible support from the team. If it weren’t for them, nothing would have been possible.” Talking to me, Sirah expressed great admiration for the people who supported her during production and who added genuine passion and creativity to the project. Sirah is now currently working as a video producer and host at SRF, alongside freelancing projects together with other enthusiastic creators. Follow her exciting journery or contact her directly by clicking here below!
Concept, Director, Editing: Sirah Nying
DoP, Camera: Anil Sarikaya
Camera assistent: Johann Cantieni
Underwater camera: Santino Iannuzzo
Music: Aleksandra Sucur
Sound design: Miles Singelton
Color Grading: Lukas Schaller
Subtitles: Alisa Fäh
Mentor: Gabriela Betschart
Co-production: Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen