LFI: Africa is a continent with a diverse cultural scene. Please tell us about the concept behind “African Cosmologies“.
Mark Sealy: This project is representative of a 30 year journey through ideas around history, time and place. It is not representative of any person or of any one place. It’s about multiplicity. It’s about recognition, diversity, and the entangled histories of our complex present. There is, of course, a healthy African photographic tradition which, until fairly recently, was simply ignored – which doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
Artists such as Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Samuel Fosso, Zanele Muholi and Akinbode Akinbiyi, among many others, have fought long and hard to be recognized, to have a voice, and now, when we clean up the house of history a little, we can clearly see that the influence of African visual culture goes way beyond the confines of imposed Eurocentric boarders and knowledge systems. It’s an invitation to keep on thinking and delinking.
What photographers did you want to focus on and why?
Much of the discourse around the history of photography has been preoccupied with defining the photographic canon, and considering the photograph in relation to the history of art. This has lead to the construction and presentation of a populist history of photography that is dominated by Western photographers. It is important to also look at photography in terms of time, space, and distance, and the work that a photograph does for culture, politics, and history. This is at the heart of how I have been thinking for a long time. It’s not about selection, it’s about dialogue. I am only interested in the work photographs do for culture. The question is not about selection, it’s about meaning. The question to ask is what’s the work doing at this time. This is my curatorial mantra.
What do you wish for the medium of photography in Africa and for African photographers?
I think the image of Africa is being redefined by African and diasporic photographers, into something much more useful and much more powerful. This, in turn, influences how others work on or around the continent. We owe a lot to artists such as Santu Mofokeng, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Aida Silvestri and Monica de Moranda, as they help us delink from the violence of colonial thought, understand the past, and offer new meaning to our present. They are, quite simply, bright lights that help us navigate towards a better understanding. We do well to look up to them. (ce)
Mark Sealy, Stevan Evans, Max Fields (ed): African Cosmologies: Photography, Time and the Other. Hardback with two colour foil stamping and coloured cutting edges, format: 17 x 24.2 cm. 296 pages with 218 photos and illustrations in b&w and full colour. The book was published in conjunction with FotoFest. Schilt Publishing