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New Positions in Contemporary African Photography
NEW YORK.-Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography is the first major U.S. exhibition in a decade to examine current photographic works from Africa. Organized for the International Center of Photography (ICP) by Okwui Enwezor, one of the world’s foremost curators of contemporary art, the exhibition will present over 200 works by 35 artists from a dozen countries. Encompassing the African continent from the Muslim cultures of North Africa to the sub-Saharan nations of the south, Snap Judgments will feature a range of highly individual artistic responses to the enormous changes now taking place in economic, social, and cultural life throughout Africa. The exhibition is on view at ICP (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street), its only venue, through May 28, 2006.

African photography has changed dramatically since 1996, when Mr. Enwezor organized In/Sight: African Photographers 1940 to the Present for the Guggenheim Museum. In that groundbreaking show, the studio portraiture of such now-acclaimed figures as Seidou Keïta, Malick Sidibé, and Samuel Fosso predominated. Today photography has come to play an expanded role within the spectrum of contemporary African art. Reflecting the increasingly close relation of photography with other forms of experimental art in Africa, Snap Judgments will include not only photographic works but also multimedia installations and documentation of performance art.

In addition to conveying the individual voices and views that inform African art today, Snap Judgments will examine the ways in which recent photographic art has moved beyond both African traditions and Western influences to explore new aesthetic territories. Four recurring themes in contemporary African photography will interweave throughout Snap Judgments:

Landscape and Environment: A number of African artists have sought to reinvest landscape with a sense of cultural specificity. In their work, landscape serves as a vehicle for understanding historic trauma or social alienation. For example, Zarina Bhimji (Uganda/UK) explores the erased landscape left behind after the expulsion of Ugandan Asians in 1972. Zwelethu Mthethwa (South Africa), in his magisterial environmental portraits of workers, traces the impact of global capitalism in post-apartheid South Africa.

Urban Formations: Many African photographers are now examining the rapidly changing modes of urban living in the continent’s postcolonial cities. The work of Depth of Field, a loose collective of photographers residing in Lagos, Nigeria, charts that city’s complexly layered system of formal and informal living arrangements. Randa Shaath (Egypt) brings to light the improvised domestic architecture that is now flourishing atop countless buildings in crowded central Cairo.

The Body and Identity: Some of the most provocative art being made in Africa today focuses on the body and identity as sites of contested social meaning. In her imaginative and elaborate photographic tableaux, Tracey Rose (South Africa) creates haunting allegories of sexual and racial difference. The innovative performative works of Oladélé Bamgboye (Nigeria/UK) explore the shifting boundaries of identity, gender, and sexuality.

History and Representation: The works of many younger African artists reconstruct history by challenging or reinventing the narrative of the colonial past. In his quasi-ethnographic film Trip to Mount Ziqualla, Theo Eshetu (Ethiopia) questions the social and religious issues raised by the rituals of the Ethiopian Coptic church. The starched, formal military uniforms photographed by Hentie van der Merwe (South Africa) in the Museum of Military History in Cape Town evoke the spectral shadow that overhangs the country’s transition from colonial to postcolonial institutions.

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