Distance and Desire : Encounters with the African Archive
Part II: Contemporary Reconfigurations


The Walther Collection presents Part II of Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive, a three-part exhibition series curated by Tamar Garb. Contemporary Reconfigurations offers new perspectives on the African photographic archive, reimagining its diverse histories and changing meanings. The exhibition centers on photography and video by African and African American artists who engage critically with the archive through parody, appropriation, and reenactment.

Carrie Mae Weems introduces the themes of Contemporary Reconfigurations with her powerful series « From Here I Saw What Happened And I Cried, » a revision of nineteenth and twentieth-century anthropometric photographs of African Americans, overlaid with texts by the artist. Sammy Baloji and Candice Breitz rework ethnographic photographs onto large-scale collages. Zwelethu Mthethwa and Zanele Muholi examine sexuality, costume, and ritual. Samuel Fosso and Philip Kwame Apagya create exuberantly staged studio portraiture, using elaborate backdrops and sets to critique stereotypes and identities.

Sabelo Mlangeni’s black and white photo-essay, « Imbali, » documents the reed dances of KwaZulu-Natal, showing the display of virgins vying to be chosen as brides. Pieter Hugo’s series « There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends » examines ethnicity and skin tonalities through anthropological mug shots. Working in video, Berni Searle performs as a statuesque deity engaged in domestic labor in « Snow White, » and Andrew Putter gives an indigenous voice to the figure of Maria de la Quellerie, wife of the first Dutch commander in the area known today as Cape Town, in « Secretly I Will Love You More. »

For this group of artists, a stereotype or ethnographic vision in one era may provide material for quotation, irreverent reworking, or satirical performance in another. Illustrating how the African archive – broadly understood as an accumulation of representations, images, and objects – appears in selected contemporary lens-based practices, the exhibition stages a dialogue between the distance of the past and the desiring gaze of the present.