In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present
May 24-September 29, 1966
In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present, the first museum exhibition in the United States to explore the achievements of photographers born in Africa in the year that witnessed the end of colonial rule and marked the emerge nce of independent African states, will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from May 24 through September 29.
The presentation includes 139 works by 30 artists from the entire continent, with a special focus on photographs commissioned for the South African-based Drum, one of the most widely read and influential publications of the1950s and 1960s.
Cocurated by Clare Bell, Assistant Curator at the Guggenheim Museum, and independent curators Okwui Enwezor, Editor and Publisher of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Danielle Tilkin, Project Director for Africa Hoy/Africa Now, and Octavio Zaya, A ssociate Editor of Atlntica, the exhibition will be installed in the Robert Mapplethorpe Gallery and the connecting Thannhauser Gallery. The exhibition Africa: The Art of a Continent will be on view in the rotunda and other museum galleries beginning June 7.
This exhibition is funded in part by The Rockefeller Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Major continuing support and international air transportation are provided by Lufthansa.
The exhibition begins with portraits from the 1940s and 1950s, created while European colonial rule on the continent was being dismantled. The studio portraits of Salla Casset and Me‹ssa Gaye in Senegal and Seydou Keita in the French Sudan (now Mali) eme rged in the transformative atmosphere shaped by debates concerning independence and identity. By the late 1940s, each of these photographers had established studios that catered to a rapidly growing urban clientele. Portraiture afforded its subjects a space in which to project a desired look or fantasy. Keita, for instance, often provided clothing and photographed his sitters with props such as radios or even a car, items that he was able to buy after the French left the country. Another photographer from this period is Mohammed Dib. Born in Algeria, Dib focused his efforts outside the studio, taking photographs in his home of Tlemcen. These works of 1946 contemplate light, space, and architecture, and the manner in which these elements are altered by the presence of human forms.
A special feature of this installation will be selections from the influential South African publication Drum. Founded in 1951 in Cape Town as The African Drum, the magazine was initially unsuccessful until a new owner, James Bailey, took over several months later and began to feature images and articles that confronted the harsh conditions suffered by blacks under apartheid. The staff writers and photographers, many of whom were categorized as Blacks, Coloreds, and Indians, often risked their lives and freedom to record the inhumane treatment of prisoners and the hazardous and humiliating circumstances encountered by mine workers and other victims of the racially biased society. Along with documenting these more politically charged situations, Drum photographers also recorded a decade of tremendous literary, musical, and artistic production. Masquerade balls, jazz concerts, domestic life, and sporting events were among the many images that appeared on its pages.
These images reflect an era of converging tastes and collapsing class distinctions, not unlike those seen in the United States during the Harlem Renaissance of the late 1910s to the early 1930s, or the Beat culture of the 1950s. By 1958, many of the maga zine's photographs were syndicated and published internationally, and separate Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African, and Central African editions of Drum appeared. Like the Drum photographers, Ricardo Rangel employed the techniques of photojournalism in his series Our Nightly Bread (1960-70), in which he recorded the nightlife of Maputo, Mozambique's capital, during the country's struggle for independence from Portu gal. Rangel focused on the charged environments of crowded clubs, filled with prostitutes and European sailors, and captured these subjects in an unstaged and immediate manner. Samuel Fosso's self-portraits of the late 1970s, taken in his studio in the Central African Republic, resonate with issues of the construction, dissolution, and questioning of identity. Fosso photographed himself in stagelike settings wearing various disguises, all the while maintaining a distance between his gaze and the camera. The resulting images conflate the fiction of masquerade and photography's claim to present the truth.
The photographs of Nabil Boutros, David Goldblatt, and Santu Mofokeng from the last three decades are rooted in the documentary tradition. Boutros photographed shopkeepers and their wares from his native city, Cairo, attempting to capture what he has re ferred to as "inner" Egypt. Goldblatt, born in South Africa, documented Afrikaners, the white South African population of Dutch descent. Mofokeng, also from South Africa, has spent his career photographing, in his words, "ordinary black South Africans g oing about the day-to-day business of living," during and after apartheid.
In many of the contemporary works featured in this exhibition, the body is used to explore a variety of issues. Born in Uganda, Zarina Bhimji creates light-box images of body parts floating in formaldehyde. These works call into question the legacy of 1 9th-century pseudoscientific probings that continue to fuel myths concerning Africa and its representation. Touhami Ennadre, born in Morocco, photographs bodies in situations of tension and duress. He directly confronts the body and challenges its structure, pushing it to the limit.
Several photographers originally from Nigeria challenge Western myths about African bodies and culture. Rotimi Fani-Kayode's color photographs reflect the artist's attempt to reappropriate imagery from collectibles and tourist art, along with various masks and symbols of the Yoruba civilization, into his own contemporary vision. The friction created by Fani-Kayode's work challenges the viewer's perception and experience. Olad, Ajiboy, Bamgboy's light boxes simultaneously address ideas of representation and personal history while exploring nontraditional means for creating and disseminating images. The installation piece by Ik‚ Ud‚ consists of reappropriated photographs of images of Africa culled from popular Western sources juxtaposed with family portraits and snapshots. These images draw attention to the fact that knowledge of Africa has often been filtered through gross misinterpretations, and has more to do with Western fantasies and fears than with actual African lives.
The work of all the photographers included in this exhibition reflects diverse approaches to issues and practices of African representation. The exhibition highlights both the richness of contemporary African artistic output and a medium whose fundamental relationship to the arts in Africa has gone virtually unrecognized by Western audiences.
On Sunday, June 9, at 2:00 pm, some of the exhibition's curators and participating artists will take part in a special discussion focusing on photography and the role it plays in various countries throughout the African continent. This event will take place in the newly renovated Peter B. Lewis Theater of the Sackler Center for Arts Education and is free with museum admission.
In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present, the first publication to explore the achievements of African-born photographers of this century, accompanies this exhibition. Published by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, this fully illustrated, 280-page catalogue includes an introduction by Clare Bell, a joint essay by Okwui Enwezor and Octavio Zaya on issues of photographic representation and its relationship to the works of these African photographers, an essay on Drum by Okwui Enwezor, and an investigation of the nature and uses of the photographic image in African culture by art historian and artist Olu Oguibe. Every work in the exhibition is reproduced, and biographies and artists' statements are included. The hardcover edition is being distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
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