Black Portraiture[s] III: Reinventions – Jo’burg Conference, 17-19 November 2016

“BLACK PORTRAITURE[S] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures” is the seventh conference in a series of transnational and diasporic conversations about imaging the black body. It offers a forum that gives artists, activists, educators and scholars from around the world an opportunity to share ideas, from historical topics to current research on the 40th anniversary of Soweto. Presenters will engage a range of topics such as Biennales, the Africa Perspective in the Armory Show, the global art market, politics, tourism, sites of memory, Afrofuturism, fashion, dance, music, film, art, and photography.

image: Kudzanai Chiurai, Genesis XI, 2016
image: Kudzanai Chiurai, Genesis XI, 2016

The conference takes place November 17-19, 2016 at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was planned in collaboration with the U. S. Department of State, U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Patrick H. Gaspard, Goodman Gallery, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research/Harvard University, New York University’s La Pietra Dialogues, Tisch School of the Arts and the Institute for African American Affairs.

When the conference was first announced, the Dean of Tisch School of the Arts, Allyson Green,  said:

“The world will be greater because of the conversations and explorations that will be held when more than 140 papers and performances are presented on topics such as the global art market, activism, politics, tourism, sexuality, sites of memory, Afrofuturism, fashion, dance, music, film, and photography.”

Allyson Green, Dean – Tisch School of the Arts,
New York University

To view the full conference schedule and see a list of participating speakers, please visit the website http://www.blackportraitures.info/schedule/.

Film footage of keynote presentations from previous conferences in this series can also be viewed online at http://www.blackportraitures.info/live-stream/.

Continue reading “Black Portraiture[s] III: Reinventions – Jo’burg Conference, 17-19 November 2016”

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Installation Art by Otobong Nkanga (on display in Oxford, UK, until November 2016)

otobongnkanga-installation-at-portikusThe angular and multi-layered, architectural installation “Tsumeb Fragments” (2015) by Nigerian contemporary artist Otobong Nkanga is on display at Modern Art Oxford as part of the exhibition “KALEIDOSCOPE: It’s Me to the World” (20 August – 17 November 2016).

Like many works from Nkanga’s portfolio, Tsumeb Fragments addresses the themes of landscape, memory and the legacies of colonialism throughout continental Africa, utilising a diverse array of mixed-media and materials: from metal frames, paper and natural minerals, through to photographic stills and film footage.

THE HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT TO “TSUMEB FRAGMENTS”

Detail from Tsumeb Fragments (2015) by Otobong Nkanga
Detail from “Tsumeb Fragments” (2015) by Otobong Nkanga featuring photographic images of Tsumeb, Namibia.

In spring 2015, Otobong Nkanga travelled to Tsumeb in Namibia to an area called The Green Hill – a site known for its precious minerals, natural crystals and copper reserves. However, throughout the late-19th and 20th centuries, when Namibia was colonised by the Germans, the entire area was exploited for these natural resources and over-mined until the landscape was almost totally depleted, left in ruins and transformed into an open-pit. At the time when Nkanga took images of Tsumeb in 2015 the site was no longer a green hill. However, some slight traces of green remained in the tiny, scattered fragments of malachite and azurite minerals – the only remains of the past to  evidence the area’s former environmental beauty and wealth. The artist’s inkjet-printed images on Galala limestone in this multi-level installation, therefore, symbolise an act of remembrance, and also a ‘re-imag(in)ing’ of times and places in the past – the palimpsest of memory.

Reflecting on her travels in Namibia, and her artistic process during the design and assemblage of Tsumeb Fragments, Nkanga said:
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Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s (V and A Museum, London)

Room 38a at the V&A Museum currently features a series of photographic reflections on black British lived experiences over a period of five decades, captured by selected African and Caribbean diaspora artists and photo journalists who came to prominence between the early ’50s and the 1990s.

Exhibition view of, 'Notting Hill Couple (1967)  and The 'Pisshouse Pub (1969), by Charlie Phillips.
Exhibition view of ‘Notting Hill Couple’ (1967) and ‘The Pisshouse Pub’ (1969), by Charlie Phillips.

The photographs are a sample of relatively recent acquisitions for the V&A’s growing collection of documentary and aesthetic works by black photographers, film-makers and conceptual artists whose portfolios and archives give prominence to images and representations of black British people as an integral feature of their oeuvres.

Portraits by Neil Kenlock (b. 1950, Port Antonio, Jamaica). These pictures feature Brixton residents at home in the early 1970s.
Portraits by Neil Kenlock (b. 1950, Port Antonio, Jamaica). These pictures feature Brixton residents at home in the early 1970s.

The artworks showcased in this single-room display range from pictures illustrative of the diversity and dynamism of black urban cultures across several generations – including impromptu and posed images by Armet Francis, Dennis Morris, Charlie Phillips and Normski; quartets of stunning black-and-white studio portraits by African luminaries such as Ghana’s James Barnor and Nigeria’s J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere; and full-colour portraits of African Caribbean Londoners at home that were taken by Jamaican-born Brixton-based photographer Neil Kenlock during the 1970s.

Diary of a Victorian Dandy: 14.00 hours, by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA).
Diary of a Victorian Dandy: 14.00 hours, by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA).

A particularly important element of the exhibition is the amount of space devoted to a suite of five, large-scale photographic tableaux positioned along the length of the left-hand-side wall – titled ‘Diary of a Victorian Dandy’ (1998), by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA). In each of these theatrically assembled, gold-framed images the artist situates himself in the centre of scenes and decorative settings that have been ornately styled to look like rooms in the household of a wealthy, fashionable Victorian gentleman from the late-19th century. The times inserted as sub-headings suggest that each staging  represents changing activities pursued over the course of 24 hours: with some scenes depicting the playful performance of boundary transgressions across differences of ‘race’, gender and class frozen in time by the photographer’s gaze; and others suggestive of acts of debauchery that re-enact the types of excessive behaviour illustrated in William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (c. 1733-1735).
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Debates about the “The War on Black Bodies,” situated in contrasting cultural spaces in New York and London

“How can we transform the ways in which identity is conceived so that identities do not emerge and function only through the oppression and subordination of other social identities?”
– Elizabeth Grosz (2011). Source: Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Grosz, 2011: 89)

“The War on Black Bodies” (Part 1) – the debate in New York

Schomburg-Debate-War-On-Black-Bodies
Schomburg debate – American Policing: The War on Black Bodies. Left to right: Khalil Muhammad, Claudia De La Cruz, Joel Diaz, Darnell Moore and Jelani Cobb. Source: http://new.livestream.com/schomburgcenter/events/3357875.

On the 9th September 2014 I went online to view the live stream of a panel discussion and Q&A about racialized policing in the USA – titled, “The War on Black Bodies,” held at the Schomburg (Center for Research in Black Culture) in Harlem, New York (see: American Policing: The War on Black Bodies)* The ‘Town-Hall-style’ forum was moderated by the Schomburg’s Education Associate, Joel Diaz, and featured contributions from Khalil Muhammad (Schomburg Center Director), historian and journalist Jelani Cobb, rights activist Claudia De La Cruz (Founder of Da Urban Butterflies) and activist Darnell Moore (organiser of the Black Lives Matter campaign).

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