About the Maps
Cartography is an operation of power and at the core of the colonial remaking of the world. Mapping bodies of water, in particular, remains a fraught and contested exercise. For Playing in the Dark: Watery Experiments, Léopold Lambert creates maps that borrow from the unruliness of waves to destabilize ingrained ways of seeing.
Toney Merritt’s “ship feared lost in wild atlantic sea,” in By the Sea (1982) very much informs the spirit of these maps, via unfamiliar projections, indigenous place names when known and a deliberate irreverence for the usual orientation, coordinates and landmass-based place names that suffuse our understanding of space.
While a world map puts in a singular analytic frame the places evoked in the films—SUAKIN, DAKAR, GIVERNY, AYITI/PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAVANA, SEABROOK ISLAND, SAN FRANCISCO—a series of zooms depart from these interconnected currents to embed them in regional contexts. Taken together, these maps insist on the vastness of the Black aquatic, the multiple bodies of water that striate landmasses, and the hubris of any pretense of solid ground.
In the maps of Ayiti/Port-au-Prince/Havana, Dakar and Seabrook Island, water engulfs most of the frame, presencing the aquatic graveyards that bridge these sites. Some of the maps conjure bottomless seas, while others trace elusive submarine reliefs.
In all three, proliferating rivers and lakes sink deep into the landmass, characteristic of swampy coastal ecologies. They contrast with the more desertic terrains that surround the Red sea, an interface between the Arabian peninsula and the African continent, which connects through a series of highly politicized gulfs to the Indian ocean and the Mediterranean. As a major stop point on the road to Mecca, drawing movement from places as distant as the opposite Atlantic coast, Suakin, as many of the other places previously mentioned, epitomizes the pull and magnetic confluences of waters.
— Chrystel Oloukoï