VERENA PARAVEL

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I have suffered from amnesia for a long time. Perhaps for ever. For as long as I can remember. I don’t usually remember anything. Or very little. I have often wondered why and how I am the person I have become. A ridiculous question I can never answer. Flipping through an old family album the other day, I happened upon these two photos that have always been there, that I’ve seen time and again since I was little. This man was decapitating people and burying their heads under a church. I used to live in Togo. Nobody ever explained these pictures to me. I’m not sure I ever even asked myself about them. It was thus. It was this man, near my home. It was me. I could have been him. I could have been this head. Perhaps I grew up without my head, or with my head in someone else’s hands. I know this picture is part of me, my constitution, my past and future. But I don’t know how. I will never know. Just as I’ll never know if the policemen made the body longer than it was. Or the head bigger. Or if they forgot to measure the head.

This morning I wrote to my mother:

“Who was this man? Why is he in our family photo album, among the pictures of my childhood?”

She replied by email two hours later:

“He had just beheaded a pregnant woman, and was looking for others to kill… It seems that someone told him that the more people he killed, the richer he would become! You can clearly see it’s not a woman’s head, he was executed on the beach, after photos were taken and measurements made of the remains of the body.
What’s the point of that? I guess the cops didn’t have a lot to do.”


Véréna Paravel was born in 1971, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Paravel is a filmmaker, artist and anthropologist. Her works include the short videos 7 QUEENS (2008) and INTERFACE SERIES (2009–2010), the feature FOREIGN PARTS (2010) and, with Lucien Castaing-Taylor, LEVIATHAN (2012) and her latest film CANIBA(2017), both produced as part of Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab.