An interview with Karla Étienne, artist-curator for Mandoline Hybride

Six months into her three-year term as guest artist-curator at Mandoline Hybride, Karla Étienne reflects on her impressions and shares some of her ideas for the years to come in an interview with Priscilla Guy, Mandoline Hybride’s executive and artistic director.

Priscilla Guy : In January 2021, you had the opportunity to discover the spaces of Salon58 in Marsoui during a first artistic residency, then to participate in FURIES – contemporary dance festival last July, as a spectator. What are your impressions of these experimental art activities in Marsoui, a village in a rural area far from the big centers? What struck you the most or interested you?

Karla Étienne : What struck me the most in both experiences is the possibility of the decompartmentalization of perspectives and the plurality of encounters.

First of all, in Salon58 I was caught by the sound of silence, by the softness of the snowflakes, enveloped by the mist around the treetops and I had the impression that the mountains were watching me from the corner of my eye. I felt a little cramped in my little body. I came with the pressure of an immense privilege that I had to honor. 

The urban woman that I am, finally embraced this contact with nature with open arms. I danced outside almost every day with this feeling of not being alone. There was always a creak, the sound of flowing water to remind me that I was nature. To remind me, powerfully and humbly, that whatever I was doing, I needed to connect with nature. I had the intuition that the meaning of my dance gestures would come from my ability to practice openness, humility and connection.  

The Soirée at the end of the residency allowed me to meet the public of Salon58, to exchange on my experience and on what I had sought artistically during these ten days. This moment was precious and rich for me because I felt a real curiosity and a sincere will to meet the people present. 

As for the FURIES festival, it debunks a myth that I must say I never believed, that the rural audience is not ready to receive eclectic works, sometimes provocative or whose style can simply surprise. Marsoui’s audience is warm, receptive, engaged, expressive, eager and even sometimes exalted. This privileged contact with the public brings me directly back to what drives us as dance artists, the possibility of transmitting, sharing, moving, evoking and finally communicating with the people who share the privilege of meeting through the art of dance. 

The strength of the festival is its ability to offer an all-encompassing experience: workshops, discussions, performances and good crêpes available at just the right time with the fantastic possibility of dipping your toes or body in the sea. A living arts festival for a multiplied experience. FURIES offers a special context, a microcosm full of great emotions. 

PG : What are your priorities during your mandate? Is there a general guideline you want to follow or do you plan to explore a multitude of ideas and avenues?

KÉ : Mandoline Hybride has made the choice to focus on decoloniality, eco-responsibility and feminism. The space for reflections and actions is already cleared and I want to dig it with the MH team and its guest artists. 

I am known as an ardent defender of inclusion. This will not change but I don’t want to confine artists in an archetypal role of opening figures. I want to facilitate encounters with people whose stories do not necessarily have to be about exclusion or identity issues, but whose mere presence at Marsoui will open up new fields of imagination for many. To use an often-used expression, to refocus marginalized voices and rethink the universal to challenge relationships to otherness. 

PG : In 2017 and 2019, you participated as a mediator in the biennial Regards Hybrides: an International Forum (RIRH) organized by Mandoline Hybride, so you have developed a rich expertise on artistic and theoretical issues in cinematography. As we are planning the 3rd edition of the biennial, what do you wish to bring to the event, how do you plan to make your voice heard or leave your mark on the occasion?

KÉ : In 2017 and 2019, the films Separate Sentences by Reggie Daniels, Amie Dowling & Austin Forbord, Giverny I (Négresse Impériale) by Ja’Tovia Gary, and the work of Naomi Macalalad Bragin and Ayanna Dozier were particularly compelling to me. 

I realized at the same time the joy and the reality of lack as I saw their work and waited for their voices. I won’t go into detail, but it was valuable for me to hear in-depth discussions of contemporary issues of African-descended people from different perspectives, be they social, historical, political, and aesthetic. 

For the 3rd edition, I would like to continue the work begun and propose several films by Afro-descendant artists and their critical reflections on their relationship to the world and to art. Films whose cinematographic work is researched and integrated into the subject matter in a meaningful synergy. Works that highlight Afrodescendant people in what they want to say about themselves.

I would also like to offer the space to two young Afrodescendant artists who would like to explore the form of film dance in collaboration with Black Wealth Media, directed by Henri Pardo. Henri and I have often discussed developing our ability to name, understand and highlight the culture of Afrodescendant body empowerment in African and diasporic art. Perhaps a discussion on this issue will be proposed.

PG : By taking this position of artist-curator, you have the opportunity to intervene in the different projects of Mandoline Hybride, but also to develop a special project of your own during the three years of your mandate. Is this project already taking shape in your mind?

KÉ : To be honest, as someone who has always been at the service of a mission, of another artist, I still find it difficult to envisage a project of my own. I’m going to start by going back to the source, back to the studio and dancing. 

During the first residency, however, I explored theatricality, imagining my face a bit stretched, manipulated, curling, playful, tragi-comic to simply touch the boundaries of my social personality. As mentioned earlier, my body in the cold, the air, the color and the resonant sound of winter also offered me many sensory layers. And then, screendance (I like this contraction of the words) appealed to me. So, maybe a film. But first, dancing.