The gallery will house her archive for the next two months, in an exhibition titled PerAnkh: The June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive, which she curated with Danish-Ivorian critic and curator Awa Konaté. PerAnkh is an ancient Egyptian term that translates roughly as “house of life”—a shrine of knowledge and higher learning. Then again, “shrine” suggests a monument to the deceased, and so is perhaps the wrong way to describe what Givanni herself calls “a living archive.” For over 30 years, Givanni has been a curator and custodian of African and African diaspora cinema. The exhibition is shaped by her personal scholarship, around a group of Black women filmmakers that she has come to know well (there is a room called Sisterhood), the groundbreaking artist films of the UK’s Black Audio Film Collective, and film festivals she programmed in West Africa and across the Caribbean. It is dense with film ephemera, talismans obsessively collected, laid out in glass vitrines, and tacked to the walls. Today she has agreed to give me a guided tour.
Dressed in a maroon skirt suit, black ankle boots, and a headscarf the colors of the Guyanese flag, 72-year-old Givanni cuts a stylish and spry figure. She is not exactly how I imagine an archivist: shy, studious, confined to a shadowy vault. But Givanni is by her own admission an archivist of necessity. A film programmer and events producer since the early 1980s, she has long been an advocate of the Marxist, decolonial culture of Third Cinema and the filmmakers it has influenced. She has championed Black artists across African, Latin American, and Caribbean cinema, including Safi Faye, Gaston Kaboré, Sarah Maldoror, and Ousmane Sembène, by bringing their stories to global audiences. Givanni has worked for institutions including the Greater London Council, where she was part of the ethnic minorities unit, the Independent Television Commission, and the BFI, and as a programmer for international film festivals in the UK, India, France, Brazil, Martinique, and Nigeria among others. In 1993 she founded and co-edited the pioneering Black Film Bulletin magazine with writer and curator Gaylene Gould. Givanni kept the posters, pamphlets, and program notes from her events, alongside film scripts, photographs, recordings of festival Q&As, and other related objects. Today, the June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive comprises more than 10,000 individual items.