Each image, a portrait of Herero tribe members of Namibia, reveals a material culture that harkens the region’s tumultuous past: residents wear Victorian era dresses and paramilitary costume as a direct result and documentation of its early 20th century German colonization. Namibia’s borders encompass the world’s oldest desert. Bleak lunar landscapes, diamond mines, German ghost towns, rolling sea fogs, nomadic tribes and a hostile coastline littered with shipwrecks and whale skeletons comprise the region’s striking and haunting natural features. Namibia’s geography has witnessed a turbulent and little documented history of human settlement, upheaval and war within a particularly brutal period of European colonization.
The spectator is confused. These aesthetical, disturbing photographs make him feel so ill at ease that he is tempted to look away, confronted with the repressed reality revealed by the artist who makes him question the body in society, the body as an “ object of socialization”
Ed: Struck by the remarkable colors and tones used to tell the story of these two social/cultural groups.
Another Africa and K.L.V. have collaborated on a series of diptychs that compare an intensely rich source of inspiration born in Africa with the realms of the worldwide arts and fashion. On view, the ingenuity of African masqueraders, gleaning mother nature’s closet to create visually arresting disguises. Juxtaposed with contemporary art and fashion images, the pairings highlight the qualities that connect, complement and contrast, but ultimately celebrate creative ingenuity.
Within the rather Spartan confines of the Walther Collection Project Space are to be found three worlds: Weimar-era Germany, photographed by August Sanders in his life-long project to record the ‘Face of Time’, late-colonial Mali, where Seydou Keïta operated a portable portrait studio in Bamako, and, of course, 21st century New York.
Ed: Pairing of bodies of work that are on the surface unrelated.
Trailer for “Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer” a film by Charlie Ahearn
“As a street photographer, he was breaking all the traditions, of the Robert Frank traditions of street photography, having to do with spontaneity, and having to do with capturing images…
“Yes, he did everything that they would say was wrong. He would spend time with his subjects first. He would the pose his subjects, and in a very theatrical way. To which the earlier idea, it destroyed the life of what it was about. But I immediately perceived that this was an expression that was essentially hip hop. I had seen flyers of people posing like this from the late ’70s. In other words, the way he posed these people was not something that he made up. These were, in a sense, traditional cultural signifiers. They go back to the street culture of the ’70s.”
In order to present various dimensions of the work of African artists and artisans worldwide, The Global Africa Project is organized around several thematic ideas. These include: the phenomenon of intersecting cultures and cultural fusion; the branding and co-opting of cultural references; how art and design is promoted in the international market and the creative global scene; the use of local materials; and the impact of art-making on the economic and social condition of local communities.
Relatedly: Interview with Ivorian fashion designer Emeka Alams here.
WEBSITES: Another Africa: Unravelling a Hidden Continent. Founder Missla Libsekal’s beautiful site serves as a “contemporary vision of Africans, Africa and those related to the continent and its peoples in the areas of culture, art, fashion, architecture, design, music, photography and more ….”
Screenshot from home page of Another Africa web site.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Delphine Diallo: The Great Vision Franco-Senegalese graphic artist/photographer’s portfolio site. Still love “Magic Photo Studio” series after first seeing it in Clam magazine a while ago.
PHOTOGRAPHY: The Destruction of Sophiatown: Rare Color Photos, 1959 Great essay by John Edwin Mason illustrated with images on the cultural/racial significance of Sophiatown an interracial Jo’burg suburb destroyed in 1955 to make way for white residential area. By the way, if you are not a regular at Mason’s blog or following him on Twitter, I suggest you do that now. He is an eloquent voice on the photography scene in general, but Africa in particular.
“A new synthesis of urban African culture sprang up here, shouting for recognition. Materially poor but intensely social; crime-ridden and violent but neighborly and self-protective; proud, bursting with music and literature, swaggering with personality, simmering with intellectual and political militance, Sophiatown was a slums of dreams, a battleground of the heart in the war for the city’s and even the country’s suppressed black soul.
“Sophiatown produced leaders in many fields, enough to create a ‘Sophiatown Renaissance’ comparable to New York’s Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Africans in other cities looked to Sophiatown for inspiration, and the location became a symbol as well as a partial realisation of their aspirations.
“Even as government bulldozers were leveling its houses, Sophiatown generated a cultural flowering unequaled in the urban history of South Africa.”
On Nov. 30, National Geographic photographer Brent Stirton presented his photography from his and Peter Gwin’s reporting trip to Timbuktu at Dateline: Sahara, an event held at the National Geographic Headquarters and co-sponsored by the Pulitzer Center.
Per the South African Journal of Photography Ernest Cole, South Africa’s first black photojournalist was born as Ernest Levi Tsoloane Kole. He started out his photography career as a studio assistant to a Chinese photographer; it took off when he asked Jurgen Schadeberg for a job at Drum magazine. It was while taking a correspondence course with the New York Institute of Photography that the staff there encouraged/helped him to start taking pictures of life under apartheid in South Africa. By tricking the government to reclassify him as a colored (enabled by the name change to “Cole”) he was able to get access to places other blacks would not have had. As a colored he was also able to sneak his images out of South Africa, that were made into the book “House of Bondage”. He never returned to South Africa, dying in exile and isolation in New York in 1990 a week after Nelson Mandela’s release.
David Campbell: The New Visual Stories of Africa starts with the “single story” theme that Chimamanda Adichie struck in her seminal TED talk and takes image makers to task on their dualistic portrayal of Africans as good or bad, primitive or modern. This viewpoint evidently has not progressed much from that espoused in the early days of colonization where it was important for image makers to show Africans as inferior to Westerners so as to justify colonial/missionary forays into the continent.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Greg Constantine: Slum Warriors: Kenya’s Nubians. Kibera’s 100,000 strong Nubian community has lived there for over 100 years on land give them as compensation for fighting in the Kings African Rifles. “Nubian” is not officially recognized as a Kenyan tribe, so unless they are “vetted” at age of 18 to get Kenyan ID cards they become essentially stateless.
PHOTOGRAPHY:: Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Visions. Studio Museum in (the sweet village of) Harlem brings together a number of Mthethwa’s large scale images. Go see.
Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views brings together three series by South African photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa (b. 1960). “Interiors” and “Empty Beds” document the domestic lives of migrant workers around Johannesburg, South Africa, while “Common Ground” focuses on the shared experience of natural disasters in urban areas, featuring houses in New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, after wildfires.
See Also: Talk between Mthethwa and Okuwi Enwezor last year at Aperture gallery at the launch of Mthethwa’s monograph.
To that effect, black female artists exhibiting more rebellious styles are consequently shunned by black audiences for being “too weird,” and ignored by other audiences as not being authentic rock musicians. This is where the Afro-punk movement comes in: a blindingly boisterous collection of musicians whose general style makes them “misfits of society.” However, in the eyes of many, their style of dress and sound simply makes them copycats of white musicians. In other words, with the argument that rock music originated with people of color, some believe that black females choosing to go the Afro-punk route are ultimately suppressing their African-American roots.
What makes me really root for black women who rock is their willingness to carve out their own niche, to follow their artistic muses despite all the expectations, private and public, of what a black woman should and shouldn’t do. Artists like Santi(o)gold, Janelle Monae, Meshell Ndege’ocello have achieved a measure of success and recognition, but most black female rock artists (random sample below) do their thing away from the attention and approval of mainstream of black culture.
SHINGAI SHONIWA: Zimbabwe-born, UK-raised bassist and frontwoman for The Noisettes.
The band’s rapidly growing audience has a special significance for Ms. Shoniwa, who said her father wanted her to be an ambassador. “My private achievement is when I look out at the crowd and see a rainbow tribe, all different ages and colors,” she said. “Music should be about breaking down contrived divisions.”
Singer/Songwriter/Rapper/Violinist, “JOYA BRAVO” is a New York native born in Queens and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Conceived by Jamaican parents, Bravo’s upbringing was conservative, but musically charged. Bravo began playing the violin at age nine. Her success eventually earned her a chair in the Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra (a highly accredited youth ensemble in the southeast region).
Image of Peter Beard on the shores of Lake Turkana, 1965. From Guardian web site.
Controversial diarist, artist, photographer, writer, conservation activitist Peter Beard links my two worlds in New York City and Kenya. I always thought he was a Kenyan, a Kenya Cowboy to be sure but Kenyan none the less. Growing up, I remember his photography and the publicity it generated around wildlife conservation. The picture of him on the shores of Lake Rudolph (Lake Turkana to the kids) with half of his body in the mouth of a crocodile has always been part of my visual landscape.
In truth Peter Beard was born in these United States. He first developed an interest in Africa through visits to the Museum of Natural History in NYC. After graduating from Yale, he moved to Kenya working on game conservation, as documented in his book “The End of the Game“. The book featured the carcasses of mostly elephants that were dying in Tsavo from a combination of drought and overpopulation brought on by population pressures. Here in the US, Beard hung out with the art/social elite of NYC. Beard’s US base in Montauk (far east Long Island) was the place folks like Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Richard Avedon, and Jackie Kennedy spent time. He also counted luminaries like Mick and Bianca Jagger, as well as Francis Bacon among his circle of friends.
Excerpts from “Peter Beard: Scrapbooks from Africa and Beyond”
Beard’s mixed media diaries and installations make use of a lot of the ephemera of Kenya’s past and present. From coins, to images of Presidents Kenyatta and Moi, from old photos of colonial Kenya to current images of the land, people and animals of Kenya, there is so much that that is part of my visual and cultural landscape. That his work was inspired by artists like Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon, and his fashion images were featured in Vogue and Vanity Fair, places him squarely in the art scene in the New York of the 60s and 70s.
What one cannot deny about the work of Beard is that he appreciates the raw beauty of Kenya and incorporates it in his art. He can see the beauty of a Turkana woman untouched by modernity and say that it is the same beauty as that of a Vogue model. That bold viewpoint, informed by his life-long love of nature and natural history, challenges the connotation of Africa as that “dark” and primitive place and links the notion of beauty in Westernized, modernized, removed-from-nature New York with that of Africa (and all nature in general).
Beard, after all, is the man who introduced the world to one Iman Abdulmajid, claiming he had discovered her while she was herding camels in the Northern Frontier District (North Eastern Province to the kids). Iman’s arrival on the beauty scene of the early 1970’s completely and irrevocably upended the notion of African beauty in the world of fashion, which is pretty revolutionary come to think of it.
Paradoxically, apart from the Maasai and Turkana who live in the wild (in nature), the rest of us modern Africans are “doomed” for our wanton reproduction and desire for progress. In the debate over the battle of man vs nature in the competition for resources, Beard falls firmly on the side of nature. This quote from the film “Peter Beard: Scrapbooks from Africa and Beyond” in the mid-90s seems to imply that diseases like AIDS are nature’s retribution for our profligacy:
“Coming to Kenya is coming to unspoiled, and unscrewed up by human beings (at least in the 50’s), … a frontier that extends right back in time to the Stone Age. Human beings are not going to stop, they don’t know when to stop. The only thing that can stop them are these diseases that everyone is spending all their money to fight. We are sucking the juices out of the earth to fight the diseases that nature wants us to have because we are too greedy and we have taken over too much.”
This is a position that is hard to abide considering that as post-colonial Africans we are free to screw up our environment (or not), without the moralizing of people whose ancestors destroyed their environment and big chunks of other peoples’ to boot. It is the romantic, outmoded “Out of Africa”-era fetishistic attraction to Africa the primordial and the repulsion at Africa the modern with its complex, intractable problems that makes it hard to have unalloyed admiration for Peter Beard’s art, as much as he has contributed ecologically, culturally and visually. However, I suspect that is the essence of the man, who while decrying the superficial nature of modernity, has no problem doing fashion shoots for magazines that embrace that same superficiality. The world is full of contradictions.