PCAI and Serpentine’s new commission

Premiers in London

Polygreen Culture & Art Initiative (PCAI), the Serpentine and MUBI present Manthia Diawara’s film A Letter from Yene. The film premieres in London on July 21st in the context of the Back to Earth programme and will be followed by a conversation between the artist and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine’s artistic director.

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. In 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.

More about Manthia Diawara

Manthia Diawara (b.1953) is a writer, filmmaker, cultural theorist, scholar and art historian. Diawara holds the title of University Professor at New York University, where he is Director of the Institute of African American Affairs. Much of his research has been in the field of black cultural studies, though his work has differed from the traditional approach to such study formulated in Britain in the early 1980s. Along with other notable recent scholars, Diawara has sought to incorporate consideration of the material conditions of African Americans to provide a broader context for the study of African diasporic culture.


More about Serpentine and Back to Earth program

Championing new ideas in contemporary art since 1970, the Serpentine has presented pioneering exhibitions for half a century from a wide range of emerging practitioners to the most internationally recognised artists of our time. Across two sites only 5 minutes apart, in London’s Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine presents a year-round, free programme of exhibitions, architecture, education, live events and technological innovation, in the park and beyond. Proud to maintain free access for all visitors, thanks to its unique location the Serpentine also reaches an exceptionally broad audience and maintains a deep connection with its local community. Serpentine’s Back to Earth is a multi-year project that invites over sixty leading artists, architects, poets, filmmakers, scientists, thinkers and designers to respond to the environmental crisis. With the support of partner organisations and networks, these collaborators are devising artistic campaigns, protocols and initiatives. Interdisciplinary at its core, the project manifests throughout all of Serpentine’s onsite, offsite and online programmes, sharing its resources in order to amplify ongoing projects or campaigns around the climate emergency, as well as to develop new ones. Considering ecology as embedded in everyday practices and agencies, Back to Earth is a programme about change and a catalyst for change. Echoing the global response to the climate crisis, it is a complex web of interconnected research, interventions and activities.

About MUBI

MUBI is a global streaming service, production company and film distributor. A place to discover and watch beautiful, interesting, incredible films. A new hand-picked film arrives on MUBI, every single day. Cinema from across the world. From iconic directors, to emerging auteurs. All carefully chosen by MUBI’s curators. MUBI also produces and distributes ambitious new films, which members can watch exclusively on the platform. MUBI is the biggest community of film lovers, available across 190 countries, with more than 12 million members around the world.  Subscription plans are £9.99 a month or £71.88 for 12 months, or £14.99 a month or £131.88 for 12 months to include MUBI GO. MUBI is available on the web, Roku devices, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, LG and Samsung Smart TVs, as well as on mobile devices including iPad, iPhone and Android.

A letter from Yene is commissioned by


Produced by


With additional support from

Portuguese Ministry of Culture / Directorate General of the Arts

Heinrich Böll-Stiftung, Dakar


Premiere presented in collaboration with


Film premiere: 21 July 2022, from 7pm

Venue: Ciné Lumière, Institut français du Royaume-Uni, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Speed the word using the hashtags: #aletterfromyene #manthiadiawara #pcai #serpentine


Activity aligned with Goals 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17