Amadou is a Senegalese documentary filmmaker. We were introduced through a casual acquaintance, and arranged to meet in his small apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where he lived with his American wife, a dancer. When I arrived at our appointed time, he was extremely nervous, didn't seem to want me there. There was some unspoken resistance very different from our previous phone conversation. Sensing an opportunity, I took a few shots, and then the downstairs buzzer rang and he looked very nervous and said "I'll be right back.” He left me there for two hours. I was determined not to leave, too curious to know why he would leave me, a complete stranger, alone in his apartment filled with valuable objects and mountains of video gear.

When he finally returned he was greatly relieved, apparently there had been another appointment, and his sense of hospitality too deep to tell me to go away. He brought out a bottle of rum and we began drinking and taking more photographs. As we started to get drunk, he showed me his films from Senegal, simple beautiful footage of dance rituals from the villages in his home region. I asked him for a quote in his mother tongue. He told me he hated my idea of joining the search for identity with the idea of exile. The concept of exile, he said, is a meaningless one – it is too universal and therefore teaches us nothing. I was fascinated and excited, asked him to write that down. He hesitated, and then wrote it in French on a small piece of paper. “But what about the language of your heart?” I asked. He replied stiffly that Wolo f is the language of his heart but he can express himself better in French. “I will not write in Wolof for you,” but finally relented and wrote the phrase “we are all exiles.”

He thinks and feels and dreams in French, the European colonialist language, but the language he wants to think in, the language of his heart, is Wolof.

back to exile project