BLACK CHRONICLES IV, JOHANNESBURG DEBUT International Photographic Exhibition Reconfigures History

Johannesburg April 2018 marks the long-awaited arrival on African soil of the fourth iteration of Black Chronicles, a highly acclaimed photographic and multi-media exhibition, presented by London-based photographic arts agency Autograph ABP and curated by Renée Mussai (Senior Curator and Head of Archive and Research at Autograph ABP). Black Chronicles IV forms part of a series of exhibitions which have been touring internationally since 2014. Black Chronicles IV is to be hosted at the FADA Gallery, University of Johannesburg (UJ), by the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD), and opens from 13 April to 31 May 2018, entrance is free of charge.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta (Sarah Davies), 1862 by Camille Silvy
Courtesy © National Portrait Gallery, London

Black Chronicles IV presents an extraordinary array of photographic studio portraits, reprinted from original glass plates and archive prints – a number of which were buried in the Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company collection for over 125 years, until their rediscovery in 2014. These exquisitely rendered images are highly relevant to contemporary black representational politics and cultural history, revealing alternative perspectives to the modes of colonial ethnographic display prevalent at the time. Offering the Johannesburg public a unique opportunity to encounter a diverse range of black presences through the prism of 19th century studio photography in Europe and America, the exhibition foregrounds the extraordinary stories of both ordinary and prominent black figures – performers, dignitaries, politicians, servicemen and women, missionaries, students, businessmen and international royalty.

 

Wellington Majiza, The African Choir. London, 1891. By London Stereoscopic Company.
© Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Courtesy of Hulton Archive, and Autograph ABP, London.

Charlotte Maxeke (née Manye), The African Choir. London, 1891. By London Stereoscopic Company.
© Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Courtesy of Hulton Archive, and Autograph ABP, London.

Black Chronicles IV includes portraits of key black South Africans such as notable South African political activist, academic and founder of the Bantu Women’s League, Charlotte Maxeke, her sister Katie Makanya and Paul Xiniwe, photographed in London at the turn of the century as part of The African Choir. As members of the ‘African Intelligentsia’, these figures went on to become leading social activists and reformers. Enabling different ways of ‘seeing’ individuals often marginalised within Victorian Britain, colonial Southern Africa and the American South, Black Chronicles IV contributes toward an ongoing process of redressing the persistent ‘absences’ of black narratives within the historical record.

Previous iterations of Black Chronicles exhibitions have been showcased in such distinguished international venues as Autograph ABP’s Rivington Place Gallery (London); the London National Portrait Gallery; the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery for African and African American Art (Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts), and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art (Atlanta, Georgia).

 

Renée Mussai, Senior Curator and head of archive and research at Autograph ABP:

“The aim of the Black Chronicles series is to open up critical inquiry into the archive to locate new knowledge, and support our mission to continuously expand and enrich photography’s cultural histories. Not only does the sitters’ visual presence in Britain bear direct witness to the complexities of colonial and imperial history, they also offer a fascinating array of personal narratives that defy pre-conceived notions of cultural diversity in the nineteenth century.”

 

A highlight of the Black Chronicles IV exhibition is the sound and image-based installation, The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined. The installation, presented in a discrete gallery space, comprises 16 individual photographic portraits of the original members of the African Choir, who toured Britain in 1891. The portraits are accompanied by an evocative five-channel soundtrack of songs composed and arranged by South African artists Thuthuka Sibisi and Philip Miller as a creative re-imagining of the choirs’ 19th-century concert programme. The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined sound-installation has been made possible through generous financial support from the South African Department of Arts and Culture (DAC).

 

Another significant component of the exhibition is the inclusion of over 200 images selected from leading African American scholar and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois’s landmark collection of photographs, which he presented as The American Negro Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition. These images have not been exhibited in South Africa (or on the African continent) previously. Depicting middle-class African American men and women only 35 years after the abolition of slavery, they challenge the scientific ‘evidence’ and popular racist caricatures of the day, that ridiculed and sought to diminish African American social and economic success. This remarkable collection provides insight into the conditions and self-affirming expressions of black culture in the USA at the end of the 19th century, and offers viewers alternative ways of seeing and thinking about black experiences.

Peter Jackson. London, 1889. By London Stereoscopic Company.
© Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Courtesy of Hulton Archive, and Autograph ABP, London.

 

“We hope to drive the debate around representation and black subjectivity, and examine the ideological conditions in which such photographs were produced and the purpose they serve as agents of communication, then and now. At the heart of the exhibition is the desire to resurrect black figures from oblivion and re-introduce them into contemporary consciousness. { … } Politics of access, gate-keeping and the marginalisation of histories are particularly relevant to consider in the context of Black Chronicles –especially in the light of the emergence of decolonial work across the academy, the museum and other institutions. We are confident that Black Chronicles IV will inspire people to ask questions, and to look closely, and consider carefully, as to why it is only now – in the 21st century – that we are beginning to create a more inclusive visual portrait of a nation in the making.” (Renée Mussai).

 

“They are here because you were there. There is an umbilical connection. There is no understanding Englishness without understanding its imperial and colonial dimensions.” 

A citation in the Black Chronicles IV exhibition by the late Professor Stuart Hall.

 

Exhibition runs: Friday 13 April to Thursday 31 May 2018

 

Gallery hours: Tuesdays to Fridays:   09h00 to 16h00       Saturdays: 09h00 to 13h00C       losed on public holidays

 

WHERE:   The FADA Gallery – located at the entrance to the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) building, Bunting Road Campus, Auckland Park, University of Johannesburg (between Egoli Gas and the SABC).

 

SOUNDING | Black Sonic Archives on Thursday 12 April at 18h30 at The Orbit

An evening of conversations and performances, centred around the revisiting, rethinking and re-performing of black sonic archives. Presented by VIAD and UJ Arts & Culture, in collaboration with The Orbit.