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Africa: See You, See Me

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Africa: See You, See Me portrays the history of African photography and its influence on African and non-African imaginaries of Africa and the African diaspora in all their diversity. Other prominent African curators such as Okwui Onwezor and Simon Njami have advanced our understanding of the origins, trajectories, complexities, and reception of image-making in Africa. This exhibition extends and continues their curatorial narratives by drawing attention to contemporary African re-framings of Africans in artistic and documentary photographs. Together, the photographs are texts of African subjectivities, archives of history and societies in the making, and methods for understanding how images contribute to emancipation. They critique the pathologies of postcolonial and neocolonial Africa by depicting the continent’s communities disentangling themselves from repressive nation states. While some of the photographs document the
participation of Africans in state affairs, others portray the formation of post-national voluntary communities as tools of empowerment.

Africa is more than a place. It is also many spaces of sensibility within and beyond the continent – in Europe, the Americas, and Asia – that African artists pry open to install their presence. Their interventions in exhibition halls beyond the continent of their heritage have made a mark on recent photographs of Africa and Africans by non African photographers. Moreover, they have spurred intra-African, inter-textual dialogues about self-representation in Africa itself.

Africa: See You, See Me is organized in 3 parts. The first section features studio portraits of Africans seeking to write themselves into the urban landscapes to which they have migrated. It presents African photographers as they tamed, adapted and subverted the framing devices and photographic conventions bequeathed them by their former colonial masters. The black and white photographs by Meissa Gaye, Seydou Keita, J. Bruce Vanderpuije, Ricardo Rangel, Okhai Ojeikere, Mamadou Mbaye and Malick Sidibe illustrate a tense dialogue between the photographer and the photographed as they collaborate in inscribing African spaces and selves into photographic texts. They signify fantasies of self-hood, using costumes, make up, hairstyles, textile backdrops and theatrical poses to perform subjectivities of colonized places and postcolonial spaces.
The second section showcases early ethnographic portraits that imagined Africa as a wilderness peopled by Europe’s primitive ―Other. We have also used the strategy of re-reading these photographs to draw attention to them as objects within the history of photography. That history was itself a significant product of an industrialized world that defined not only progress, but also constructed those at the center and peripheries of such progress in certain ways.
The final section highlights contemporary photographs of Africa and Africans by non-African photographers who share a dialogic relationship with African artists. Thus, their work has expanded both African spheres of influence and multiplied the spaces in which Africans are photographed as subjects of history.