11
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III: Poetics and Politics’ at The Walther Collection Project Space, New York: Part 1

Exhibition dates: 22nd March – 18th May 2013

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Undertaking research in to the work of South African photographer Ernest Cole, I wanted to know more about “South African colonial photography” pre-Apartheid. If you type the phrase into Google images there is absolutely nothing online about this historical archive. So it is a great privilege that The Walther Collection has allowed me to publish nearly 40 photographs over two postings on Art Blart. What a honour to be the first online space to promote this important historical record.

It is vital that colonial photographs such as these are visible in contemporary society for they bare witness to the conditions of the past and provide a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure – for people of all colours and races. This is particularly true for a post-colonial country such as South Africa where the history of the nation must be examined impartially no matter how painful the subject matter in order to understand how the actions of the past influence the present and will continue to be re/sighted in the future. Through continual re/citation by being present in the public sphere for all to see (not hidden away offline) these images will become a source of pride (for person, family, tribe, country) – for these were strong human beings that survived the vicissitudes of colonialism to form the history and lineage of a nation.

We must thank numerous private collectors that have saved many of these photographs from the rubbish tip when no public institution was interested in collecting them. Interesting books about the South African archive include Surviving the Lens: Photographic Studies of South and East African People, 1870-1920 by Michael Graham Stewart (2001) and Contemporary African Photography from the Walther Collection. Events of the Self, Portraiture and Social Identity by Okwui Enwezor (ed.) Göttingen, Steidl, 2010.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Unidentified photographer. 'Photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer
Photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

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Caney Brothers, inscribed: 'Ordinary & Fighting Dresses.' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Caney Brothers, inscribed:
Ordinary & Fighting Dresses.
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

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Henri Noyer (attr.), inscribed: 'Taisaka Spearsmen No. 2' Madagascar, early twentieth century

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Henri Noyer (attr.), inscribed:
Taisaka Spearsmen No. 2
Madagascar, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

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The Taisaka come from the South-East coast of the island of Madagascar.

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Unidentified photographer. 'Mouv, Nthaka warrior' East Africa, early twentieth century

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Unidentified photographer
Mouv, Nthaka warrior
East Africa, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion developed out print

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The Ameru had an age set system which provided the community with warriors for defense. Boys are circumcised and become Nthaka (warriors). They stay in a Gaaru and learn to defend the community and take care of their families. The warriors were called Nthaka and were isolated from the community for military training

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Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century

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J. E. Middlebrook (attr.), inscribed: 'A Zulu girl. Hair strung with beads' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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J. E. Middlebrook (attr.), inscribed:
A Zulu girl. Hair strung with beads
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin-silver printed-out print

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The Zulu (Zulu: amaZulu) are the largest South African ethnic group, with an estimated 10-11 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Their language, Zulu, is a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup. The Zulu Kingdom played a major role in South African history during the 19th and 20th centuries. Under apartheid, Zulu people were classed as third-class citizens and suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination. They remain today the most numerous ethnic group in South Africa, and now have equal rights along with all other citizens.

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A. James Gribble, inscribed: 'Kaffer woman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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A. James Gribble, inscribed:
Kaffer woman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

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The word kaffer is a word that is used widely in South Africa and is a derogatory word for a black person. Used mainly by Afrikaans people. In old Dutch it means unbeliever (in God), so should not necessarily mean black, but just unholy or non-Christian. Boers gave the name in early South African history as native Africans did not believe in Jesus. Name came after Bantu – which means the same thing, but was banned as it was discriminatory.

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Unidentified photographer. 'Zulu mothers' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Zulu mothers
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin-silver printed out print

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Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]' South Africa, early 1870s

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Samuel Baylis Barnard, inscribed
Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]
South Africa, early 1870s
Albumen print

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The word ‘Hottentots’ was a name disparagingly used to refer to the Khoikhoi people that lived in the southern parts of the African continent as early as the 5th century AD and continued to live till the first colonists arrived in the middle of the seventeenth century. The Dutch colonists called them Hottentots. It means ‘stammerer’ in Dutch. Khoikhoi means ‘people people’. The word Hottentot is no longer used to describe the people.

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“The Walther Collection is pleased to announce Poetics and Politics, the third and last exhibition in the series Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive, curated by Tamar Garb. Poetics and Politics presents an extraordinary range of previously unseen vintage portraits, cartes de visite, postcards, and album pages from Southern and Eastern Africa, produced from the 1870s to the early twentieth century. The exhibition makes visible both the ideological frameworks that prevailed during the colonial period in Africa and the exceptional skill of photographers working in the studio and landscape.

The culmination of Distance and DesirePoetics and Politics offers a remarkable opportunity to view the narratives that emerge from this African photographic archive, describing in particular the experience of the studio – the curiosity between subject and photographer, the negotiations of costume and pose, and the will for self-representation. The exhibition investigates typical European depictions of Africans, from scenes in nature, to sexualized images of semi-nude models, to modern sitters posing in elaborate studios, critically addressing the politics of colonialism and the complex issues of gender and identity.

Among over 75 vintage prints, Poetics and Politics includes a selection of elegant studio portraits by Samuel Baylis Barnard, one of Cape Town’s most prominent nineteenth century photographers. Original album pages of landscapes and ethnographic imagery are displayed alongside a series of carte de visite portraits of Africans, created in the 1870s in the Diamond Fields of Kimberley, South Africa. The exhibition also features several double-sided displays of album pages, showing striking combinations of personal and stock images, and the juxtapositions of prominent figures in both African and Western contexts.

Distance and Desire is accompanied by an extensive catalogue, published by The Walther Collection and Steidl, and edited by Tamar Garb. Including twelve original essays, the catalogue offers new perspectives by contemporary artists and scholars on the African archive, reimagining its diverse histories and changing meanings. On June 8, 2013 the expanded exhibition incorporating all three parts of Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive will open at The Walther Collection in Neu-Ulm, Germany. The Walther Collection is a private non-profit foundation dedicated to researching, collecting, exhibiting, and publishing modern and contemporary photography and video art, based in Neu-Ulm, Germany and New York. Distance and Desire is part of the collection’s multi-year investigation of African photography and video.”

Press release from the Walther Collection website

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Unidentified photographe. 'Native Police' South Africa, Late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Native Police
South Africa, Late nineteenth century
Albumen print mounted on album page

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Kimberley Studio (New Rush, Diamond Fields). 'Zulu / Warrior in skin kaross, armed with assegais' and 'Guerrier Zulu a manteau de fourrure et armé de piques' South Africa, c. 1870s

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Kimberley Studio (New Rush, Diamond Fields), inscribed:
Zulu / Warrior in skin kaross, armed with assegais and Guerrier Zulu a manteau de fourrure et armé de piques
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

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John Salmon. 'Basuto' South Africa, c. 1870s

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John Salmon, inscribed:
Basuto
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

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See Sotho people on Wikipedia

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Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Photograph of a woman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Samuel Baylis Barnard
Photograph of a woman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

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William Moore (attr.), 'Macomo and his chief wife [Portrait of Maqoma and his wife Katyi]' South Africa, c. 1869

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William Moore (attr.), inscribed:
Macomo and his chief wife [Portrait of Maqoma and his wife Katyi]
South Africa, c. 1869
Albumen print

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G. F. Williams. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa South Africa, late nineteenth century

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G. F. Williams
Studio photograph of a man, South Africa
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

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Unidentified photographer. 'Fingo swells' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Fingo swells
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

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The Fengu (plural amaFengu) are a Bantu people; originally closely related to the Zulu people, but now often considered to have assimilated to the Xhosa people whose language they now speak. Historically they achieved considerable renown for their military ability in the frontier wars. They were previously known in English as the “Fingo” people, and they gave their name to the district of Fingoland (Mfenguland), the South West portion of the Transkei division, in the Cape Province.

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M. Veniery. 'Choubouk' Sudan, early twentieth century

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M. Veniery, inscribed:
Choubouk
Sudan, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printedout print mounted on card

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Unidentified photographer. 'Bushman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

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Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Bushman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

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A.C. Gomes & Son. 'Views in Zanzibar - Natives Hairdressing' Tanzania Late nineteenth century

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A.C. Gomes & Son, inscribed:
Views in Zanzibar – Natives Hairdressing, Tanzania
Late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted to album page

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The Walther Collection Project Space
Suite 718, 508-526 West 26th Street
New York
T: +1 212 352 0683

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday from 12pm – 6pm

The Walther Collection website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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