The Magical State

Sophia Al Maria

Shot in Colombia, the film explores the extraction of fossil fuels from the desecrated land as a kind of ritualistic, violent exorcism imposed on the abject ‘female’ body. Employing the genre/trope of this allegory, the artist, who hails from the Arabian Gulf region, examines the importance per se of a spirit that is exigently and aggressively ‘conjured’ to be used intensively until it eventually becomes a sordid waste, in a process of perpetual conflict with matter and of ignorance and/or indifference as to what animates matter, what ultimately constitutes and coheres it.

Sophia Al Maria, who has repeatedly expressed her mounting fear vis-à-vis the environmental collapse caused by the excesses of early and late capitalism, was led by her research to the region of La Guajira, Colombia, near the borders with Venezuela, the site of one of the largest open coal mining facilities in Latin America and one of the most afflicted areas on the planet in the course of the industrial revolution and globalization.

As pointed out by organizations that have studied the effects on the overall ecosystem, including its complex socio-political dimensions, after 30 years of continuous mining the damages are permanent and accompanied by multiple violations of the ancient indigenous populations’ rights to life, as they are forced to relocate or live under the veil of polluting dust that covers everything.

The film by Al Maria features a native young woman who speaks Wayuunaiki, the rare language of an ancient matrilineal tribe. Possessed by the spirit of crude, she unleashes her rage as it is released during the refining process.

When her family subjects her to the trial of exorcism, her voice becomes a frightening weapon of alloglossia, her body bleeds in the iridescent shades of oil as it reflects the light and, when asked, she does not acknowledge any identity as her own, instead hurling a strange prophecy, swirling and scintillating, disproportionate in her dimensions relatively to the landscape. Half demon, half heroine, the young woman in the film The Magical State is both the substance and the outcome of the mining, but also a strong feminist metaphor for every woman, every being, that is oppressed, suffocating within the bounds of a forced condition and its violence, eventually discharging her panic against anyone who crosses her path.