An World in Common Contemporary African Photography

For the majority of British visitors, this exhibit provides an enlightening experience that challenges their view. It challenges and dismantles the long-standing colonial stereotypes that are associated with Africa. In the same way, it is an ardent affirmation for African photographers, affirming their distinctive use of the medium.

The curator, Osei Bonsu, developed three main themes “identity and tradition”, “counter histories” and “imagined futures”. The selected photographers tell the stories of a fresh and positive Africa. It’s an Africa which is celebrating its faith and liberating its colonial history. It’s an awe-inspiring piece of work from a fresh generation artists who draw from the rich political and social culture of Africa to tell their own stories.

As I entered the exhibit I was immediately swept by a set of portraits that were large: Nigerian Monarchs by George Osodi. The formality of the paintings highlights their importance as monarchs as guardians of our cultural heritage – even though their power was reduced under British colonial rule.

Portrait of Obi Anyasi II, who is the longest-running African King, is a clever commentary on Nigeria’s history. His fierce gaze is in stark contrast to his portrait of queen Elizabeth II, and her portrait is on his dress. In the catalogue of the exhibition Osodi writes that preserving and documenting cultural heritage will be “key to understanding cultural origins, and thus developing a sense of identity”.

Nigerian Monarchs by George Osodi (2012) in the Tate Modern collection in A World in Common. Tate Modern

In the same space in the same room is Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai’s work We live in silence. The works serve as a reminder of how Christian missionaries played a role in the colonialization of the continent, and played a key role in the dismantling of colonial societies that women were frequently powerful and influential.

Inspired by Bible scenes, Chiurai’s work is centered around the present-day African women. He is able to reclaim their place within the narrative of history of Africa.

However, female artists are fighting to be recognized in the exhibition, with there are only 12 women in the exhibition. Equal representation of women should be a primary consideration when deciding on the curators of this exhibit since it is vital to encourage an equal representation of African woman in arts.

Dialog and Consent

Ogunji’s work was notable as the only piece of the exhibition that documented the response of Africans and engaged with the African viewers directly.

In her video of performance, Do I still carry water when I’m a Dead Woman? A group of masked women carry golden water bottles through the bustling street in Lagos, Nigeria. The reactions of residents highlighted the potential of art to challenge the shaming of women’s work. It can spark dialogue when art in performance is not well-known or appreciated.

Will I Still Carry Water When I Am a Dead Woman? by Wura-Natasha Ogunji.

Ogunji was born in Nigeria. She graduated with a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from San Jose State University in the US. This is a further problem with the list of photographers featured in the exhibit. Many have established relationships with European or American arts institutions.

Additionally, a large portion have completed their studies in Europe as well as the US are, represented by galleries across the world, and maintain a presence across two continents. They are a part of a global art scene that views African art as an increasing investment opportunity. It may lead to the most impressive instances of African art moving out of Africa. In the words of French gallery proprietor Cecile Fakhoury has said: “If we keep going as we are, in ten or 20 years we will see all the major pieces in foreign countries.”

As the situation gets worse, the gap in resources for artists that reside and work in Africa. It reveals the continuing lack of funding for the arts sector by the majority of African governments and the deficiency of internationally recognized art institutions in Africa.

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