Martine Syms is a 2022 Josep Luís Sert Practitioner in the Arts in the Department of Art, Film and Visual Studies. In collaboration with AFVS and the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, the Harvard Film Archive is pleased to welcome Martine Syms for a screening and discussion of The African Desperate with AFVS Professor and Chair, David Joselit.
The latest film by interdisciplinary artist and self-named “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms (b. 1988) offers an offbeat and insightfully comic meditation on the 21st century art world, seen from the point of view of Palace, a Black woman artist navigating the disorienting day of, and long night after, the completion of her MFA. Animated by Syms’ mordant humor and the remarkable presence of frequent collaborator and fellow artist Diamond Stingily, The African Desperate playfully melds together tropes of 90s rom-com and high theory while exploring the artistic and semiotic dimensions of social media expanded in Syms’ other work. Partially based on Syms’ own time as a graduate student, the film also critically but humorously examines the specificities of Black experience in the art world and, in the process, highlights the unspoken codes of language and performance refined and enforced by MFA programs. The African Desperate balances its often-hilarious satire with a genuine affection for its characters and their desires, boldly adding feature length narrative cinema to Syms’ dynamically expanded artistic practice. – Haden Guest