A Letter from Yene
Feature film, 16:9, with sound and color, 50′.
Manthia Diawara, A Letter from Yene (still), 2022. Film.
Commissioned by Serpentine, MUBI and PCAI Polygreen Culture & Art Initiative, as part of Serpentine’s Back to Earth project. Courtesy of the artist and Maumaus / Lumiar Cité, Lisbon.
A changing coastline, a deprived sea, disappearing rituals and new professions emerging out of the climate emergency form the landscape of Manthia Diawara’s new film. A Letter from Yene emerges from conversations with the community in the seaside town of Yene, Senegal, where Diawara lives for part of the year. The area was traditionally and primarily occupied by fishermen and farmers but has in recent decades been besieged by coastal erosion and uncontrolled urbanisation. Fish have become scarce and the pirogues, traditional fishing boats, cannot go far enough into the sea, so their owners have turned to new occupations. Modern fishing requires motorised boats and large nets made from non-biodegradable wires that become lethally entangled with purple coral, and human detritus, eventually washing up on shores like woven creatures of the sea. The women who used to smoke fish and preserve it as part of a sustainable mode of living now sell pebbles to the owners of the newly built houses. The sand, granite, shells and pebbles that affluent house owners buy to build, decorate and protect their homes against the winds and salt of the sea contribute, ironically, to the degradation of the bottom layers of the ocean and intensify coastal erosion.
Diawara’s documentary unfolds as if it were a letter written to the viewer. A Letter from Yene, the filmmaker is not only the storyteller, but also the owner of one of the houses along the beach. Following encounters between fishermen, pebble collectors and himself, Diawara explores how their intersecting lives collectively and unknowingly contribute to the undermining of their shared environment.