The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins

Director: Pietra Brettkelly
Screenwriters: Pietra Brettkelly

Institute History

  • 2008 Sundance Film Festival


When you’re a contemporary-art world star and a self-avowed feminist known for stinging audiences with audacious performances involving red paint and naked African women—like Vanessa Beecroft—life and art inevitably bleed together. So when Beecroft decides to adopt orphaned Sudanese twins while incorporating them into her artwork, she sparks ethical and emotional fires from Sudan to New York.

Pietra Brettkelly’s camera unabashedly tracks the dizzyingly intelligent, gorgeous, and controversial Beecroft on a three-continent voyage of creative expression and self-discovery. It all starts when Beecroft, captivated by the adorable Madit and Mongor Akot, returns to their orphanage intent on motherhood. But love is not enough. Byzantine laws and the appearance of the twins’ father complicate proceedings. The toughest resistance comes from locals offended when Beecroft photographs the naked infants in the church. Beecroft further shocks when she takes the tiny twins to her breasts, composing a tableau that provocatively twists tropes of Catholicism and colonialism. Meanwhile, her husband questions her right to impose white, Western culture on the babies and even threatens to leave.

You can accuse Beecroft of exploitation or laud her courage, but it’s impossible to dispute her gameness to critique herself. Propelled by motherly love and art-making impulses, she reveals how the personal is always political and confronts a question none can answer adequately: what is the appropriate response to African suffering?

— Caroline Libresco

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards


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