Mahir Saul. Photo By Emrah Gürel, Hurriyet Daily News, http://www.emrahgurel.com

Mahir Saul: Debunker of African Stereotypes

By Khalid Halhoul, Utne Reader

November/December 2012

When it comes to African film, even the most avid film watchers’ minds draw a blank. African titles never make the final cut in all-time-great film lists. It’s this void that Dr. Mahir Saul wants to fill, and break stereotypes along the way.

Saul’s affection for Africa is rooted in Turkey, developed in the United States, and sealed during numerous anthropological research trips to Africa. Last winter, it came full circle when he introduced African film, for the first time, to eager Istanbul Museum of Modern Art audiences.

Saul, 62, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign anthropology professor, grew up in Istanbul — a city situated in Europe and Asia, bisected by the Bosphorus Strait, and known for its past rich cultural diversity. “When I was a kid, it was normal to hear four or five languages on the streets, the baker spoke Armenian, the vegetable vendor spoke Greek, and our neighbors might be speaking Italian,” he says, matter-of-factly, like someone in rural America should have experienced the same.

Saul’s anthropology path was circuitous and accidental. Odds were that he should have become a shirt salesman like his father. Instead, in 1968, he happened upon the Turkish Folklore Society, a hip, intellectual Boy Scouts-like institution devoted to dance, music, and research publications. With a prominent folklorist’s encouragement, he then studied economics at Bogaziçi University, joined Indiana University’s respected Turkish Program as a master’s student, and eventually became an anthropology PhD candidate. Saul selected Africa, the world’s second largest continent, because he could meld his French skills, economics education, folklore background, and heritage. Saul was tailored for the region.

Read this full article on Utne Reader online.

Also see a related article by Utne Reader about Prof. Saul’s work entitled “12 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World in 2012.”

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