Paul Basu’s latest film ‘Ichi: Marks in Time’ selected for screening at two international film festivals

Paul Basu’s latest film ‘Ichi: Marks in Time’ nominated for an Outstanding Documentary Award at the 20th Abuja International Film Festival, and selected for the 2023 Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival in Toronto.

The feature-length documentary was made collaboratively with Christopher Thomas Allen of The Light Surgeons and with members of the Umudioka community in Neni, Anambra State, Nigeria.


The co-created film was made as part of Paul Basu’s [Re:]Entanglements project. It tells a story of cultural resilience, colonialism and the power of photographs to transcend the context of their production.

In 1911, the British government anthropologist Northcote Thomas made a study of the Igbo-speaking people of Nigeria. Among the thousands of photographs he took are many portraits of men whose faces are covered with scarification marks known as ‘ichi’. At first sight these images of deeply scarred faces seem to confirm colonial-era imaginaries of African customary practices. Reintroducing the 110-year old photographs to the Umudioka community in Neni, however, provokes a cultural revival as the history of ichi is retold and re-enacted. The Umudioka people are the historical custodians of ichi. In this creative documentary, filled with colour, dance, masquerade and song, the descendants of those photographed tell the story of their ancestors and their profession as traditional ‘tattooers’.

‘Death does not take stories’, one elder explains. Rather than marks of tribalism, ichi was a sign of nobility and it protected people from being sold into slavery. Ichi cutting was brought to an end in the 1930s by missionaries who wanted to stamp out what they regarded as pagan customs. In the film, the few surviving men who bear the scarification marks recall their childhood experiences having their faces cut and forever changed. ‘Today’, one remarks, ‘people would no longer survive it’. Spirited despite their advanced years, they talk with a mixture of pride and regret at the loss of their traditional culture. Beyond the particular story of ichi and Umudioka, the film explores the ambivalence of colonial legacies, and offers a profound reflection on continuity and change in West Africa.

Abuja International Film Festival (30 Oct - 3 Nov 2023)
Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival, Toronto (15-19 Nov 2023)