Learning from the Curse

Sembene’s Xala

Richard Fardon


Sènga la Rouge

A biting satire on corruption, Xala set the standard for the new wave of African cinema.  This is a dazzlingly illustrated reflection on West African cultural practices — literary, social and visual — and one of a kind.


Bibliographic Details
Learning from the Curse Hardback
February 2017£17.99

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‘This book is about a story (Ousmane Sembene’s Xala), about a time (the aftermath of Senegalese Independence), and about a place (Dakar, the capital of Senegal). It’s also about the collaboration between an artist and an anthropologist, who have reacted in their different mediums to the story, time and place, and to what the other made of them ….’

So opens a unique account in a genre of its own devising that will engage readers interested in Sembene Ousmane as writer and film director, in Senegal, in African film, in West Africa, or in books designed to be desirable objects in their own right.


Richard Fardon is a social anthropologist who has researched and written about West Africa. He teaches at the School or Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Sènga la Rouge is a Paris-based artist. Her wide interests include carnets de voyage, drawing performances, and drawing in and as performance.


‘Richard Fardon’s Learning from the curse, illustrated with beautiful drawings by Senga la Rouge, is a true homage to Sembene’s Xala … everything about Learning is beautiful – the prose, the art, the book’s cover, the choice of colours and even the quirky font … The choice of themes around which Fardon organises the structure of the book excites joys of interpretation [and] Fardon’s signature prose is the kind that gets stamped into memory and can be revisited at a leisurely moment … The book has many uses: it is a fun and off-beat reportage of the place and the time, it is a film club companion for solitary viewers, and it is a book to admire visually.’ — Africa at LSE, Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa blog

‘Fardon’s penetrating insight underpins a dazzling interpretation of Sembene’s classic novella and film, and, in combination with Boulmer’s (alias la Rouge) sumptuous illustrations, he infuses Xala’s plotlines with contemporary relevance.’ — Trevor Marchand, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, SOAS

‘A lovely example of the sort of creative renewal badly needed in African and Africanist anthropology — frontier conversations across disciplines and with interlocutors outside of the academy — to capture the intricacies and nuanced complexities of Africa and Africans.’ — Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town