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Reframing History

A powerful and unique audio-visual exhibition depicting photographs of African people in the Victorian era

By Gugu Mkhabela | May 3, 2018 | Art

The highly acclaimed photographic and multi-media exhibition, Black Chronicles IV is showing at the FADA gallery at the University of Johannesburg, until 31 May. Joburgers have an opportunity to experience a unique range of images of black presence (and excellence) of 19th-century studio photography in Europe and America.

This powerful exhibition depicts an extraordinary sequence of photographic studio portraits, reprinted from original glass plates and archive prints. Most of these were buried in the Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company collection for over 125 years, until they were discovered in 2014. The exhibition depicts ordinary and prominent black figures from performers, dignitaries, politicians, servicemen and women, missionaries, students, businessmen and international royalty.

These portraits are touring the world ever since they were rediscovered four year ago because of their relevance to contemporary black representational politics and cultural history. It includes portraits of key black South Africans such as political activist, academic and founder of the Bantu Women’s League, Charlotte Maxeke, her sister Katie Makanya and Paul Xiniwe, photographed in London in the late 1800s as part of The African Choir.

The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined, is one of the major highlights of this special exhibition. It’s a sound and image-based installation of 16 individual photographic portraits of the original members of the African Choir, who toured Britain in 1891.

Black Chronicles IV is presented by London-based photographic arts agency Autograph ABP and curated by Head of Archive and Research at Autograph ABP, Renée Mussai, who says, “the aim of the exhibition is to open up a critical inquiry into the archives to locate new knowledge and support our mission to continuously expand and enrich photography’s cultural histories…at the heart of the exhibition, is the desire to resurrect black figures from oblivion and re-introduce them into contemporary consciousness.”

 

Albert Jonas and John Xiniwe, The African Choir. London, 1891. By London Stereoscopic Company. © Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Courtesy of Hulton Archive, and Autograph ABP, London.

 

 

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

 

Feature Image:  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.

 

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