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Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part I’ at The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Germany

Exhibition dates: 9th June 9 2013 – 17th May 2015

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Another group of interesting colonial African photographs from The Walther Collection. Similar in scope to the 20 volume series The American Indian (1906 – 1930) by ethnologist and photographer Edward S. Curtis which “documented as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared,” (Wikipedia), A. M. Duggan-Cronin’s 11 volume series The Bantu Tribes of South Africa (1928 – 1954), “set out to depict what he considered the disappearing indigenous populations of South Africa.” Disappearance and loss are the all to ready themes of these recorders of vanishing races.

“Santu Mofokeng’s ‘The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950’ introduces the concept of the photographic archive as both a repository of documents and an assemblage of representations “ (media release). In this work Mofokeng juxtaposes images of “civilized” natives – images urban black working- and middle-class families had commissioned, requested, or tacitly sanctioned without evidence of coercion – with text that spurns, questions or challenges official integrationist policies taking their model from colonial officials and settlers. “The images depicted here reflect their sensibilities, aspirations and their self-image.”

The artist asks:

“Are these mere solemn relics of disrupted narratives or are these images expressive of the general human predicament?”

“Who is gazing”

“Who are these people?”

“What were their aspirations?”

“Did these images serve to challenge prevailing western perceptions of the African?”

“Do these images serve as testimony of mental colonisation?”

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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. See the full work and read the accompanying text of Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950.

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Part I: The Black House: Santu Mofokeng and A.M. Duggan-Cronin

“A juxtaposition of A. M. Duggan-Cronin’s The Bantu Tribes of South Africa and Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950 introduces the concept of the photographic archive as both a repository of documents and an assemblage of representations. Duggan-Cronin, an Irish South African who lived in the mining town of Kimberley, set out to depict what he considered the disappearing indigenous populations of South Africa. His monumental study, entitled The Bantu Tribes of South Africa, published between 1928-1954, includes photographs, descriptive captions, and anthropological essays. In addition to presenting all eleven Bantu Tribes books, a complete sequence of photogravure plates from The Nguni: Baca, Hlubi, Xesibe (1954) will be on view, alongside a selection of vintage gelatin-silver prints by Duggan-Cronin, which had previously circulated as individual objects.

In contrast to Duggan-Cronin’s renowned and contested ethnographic vision of African heritage, Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950 portrays the modern self-representation of African subjects. In the early 1990s, the artist collected family studio portraits from late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century South Africa and transformed the images into a slide show, complete with narratives about the sitters. He also produced a series of gelatin-silver print reproductions of the portraits, which are on view together with a selection of the project’s original vintage prints and Mofokeng’s research notes. Envisioned as a “counter-archive,” The Black Photo Album challenges fixed ideas most often associated with images of Africans.

By placing these two bodies of work alongside one another, Part I of Distance and Desire opens up the question of the “African Archive,” understood here not so much as an official repository of documents and objects but as a contested assemblage of representations that have helped to construct and project a dominant image of Africans that is now under pressure and revision.”

Press release from The Walther Collection website

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at me: 1890-1950' 1997

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'The Late Chief Jonathan Molapo' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
The Late Chief Jonathan Molapo
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Woman of Middle Age at Moitšupeli’s' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Woman of Middle Age at Moitšupeli’s
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'A Morolong Youth' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
A Morolong Youth
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Bomvana Initiates' 1930

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Bomvana Initiates
1930

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Ovambo (Ogandjera) Woman' 1936

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Ovambo (Ogandjera) Woman
1936

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Bishop Jacobus G. Xaba and his family? Photographer: Deale, Bloemfontein, Orange River Colony, c. 1890s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Moeti and Lazarus Fume)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Scholtz Studio, Lindley, Ouma Maria Letsipa, née van der Merwe, with her daughter Minkie, Orange River Colony, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, South Africa, early twentieth century)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Elizabeth and Jan van der Merwe, Johannesburg, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Elliot Phakane, Bethlehem Location, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified subjects, Clifton Studio, Braamfontein c.1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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The Walther Collection
Reichenauer Strasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm, Germany

Opening hours:
Thurs – Sunday by appointment and with guided tour only
Public tours Saturday and Sunday at 3pm by appointment only

The Walther Collection website

Santu Mofokeng The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950

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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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