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Bruly Bouabré's Alphabet

A film by Nurith Aviv

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In the 1950's, Ivory Coast artist Frederic Bruly Bouabré created several hundred pictograms, based on one-syllable words in his language, Bété, to help people in the Bété community learn to read more quickly. Although some 600,000 Bétés live in the Ivory Coast, their language is not taught in schools, and all education is conducted in French.

film still

Bouabré's 400 pictograms, in various combinations, provide a playful yet tangible method of instruction, as demonstrated in BRULY BOUABRE'S ALPHABET. As the now elderly Bouabré explains, his aim was to "form a specific African writing from scenes of human life." Today a small number of people continue to use Bruly's alphabet, and museums around the world have exhibited his drawings.

"Recommended! Excellent." —Educational Media Reviews Online

"The work of Bouabré is a kind of wandering, like walking on the skin of things." —Andre Magnin

"[Bouabré] deciphers the world as a visual text, creating a comprehensive guide to everything and everyone. Over decades Bouabre created a visual manuscript, an art manifesto, of life, death and everything; a metaphysically sympathetic curation of the entire modern world as it relates to our needs [and manipulated our superstitions and our prejudices, re-categorizing our world to defy them." —BBC

"[Bouabré's work] reveals the universal need to make some kind of sense of the confusions of contemporary politics and culture. But while… the symbols are bursting with data, interpretations are left entirely to the viewer. In the end, these herculean efforts to create order only confirm the elusiveness of genuine knowledge or certainty." —Art in America

2006 Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival
2005 African Studies Association Film Festival

17 minutes / Color
French / English subtitles
Release: 2005
Copyright: 2005

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This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
Africa, Anthropology, Art, Cultural Anthropology, Education, Folk Art, French History, Ivory Coast, Literature

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