VIAD is proud to host the fourth iteration of Autograph ABP’s internationally touring Black Chronicles programme, marking the first time that a wider selection of works from the series – and newly added imagery – are exhibited on the African continent.
Black Chronicles IV presents an extraordinary collection of photographic studio portraits, a majority produced in collaboration with the Hulton Archive from original nineteenth-century glass plates as large-scale modern silver gelatin prints.
Buried in the Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company (LSC) collection for more than 125 years, these negatives were re-discovered by Autograph in 2014 as part of their critically acclaimed curatorial archive research programme, The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles (2013 - present). Selected LSC portraits, excerpted from a larger body of work, are shown alongside a display of rare albumen cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards from Autograph ABP’s own archive, as well as digital reproductions from the National Portrait Gallery, London and private collections.
Offering a unique opportunity to encounter a diverse range of ‘black presences’ – African, Caribbean and South Asian – through the prism of nineteenth-century studio photography in Victorian Britain, the exhibition foregrounds the narratives of both ordinary and prominent black figures – performers, dignitaries, politicians, servicemen and women, missionaries, students, businessmen as well as international royalty.
Together with W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Paris Albums 1900 – also seen for the first time in South Africa - these exquisitely rendered images are highly relevant to contemporary cultural history and politics of representation, as they reveal alternative perspectives to modes of portrayal prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and evidence cultural diversity, agency and advocacy.
A highlight of the 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.
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.
The exhibition’s 19th century photographs are presented in dialogue with Effnik, a contemporary photograph by Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. 1963), which was commissioned by Autograph in 1996.
Black Chronicles is produced in association with the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images. Photographs by London Stereoscopic Company © Hulton Archive/Getty Images are shown courtesy of Autograph, London. Printed by Mike Spry between 2014 - 2017. All vintage photographs and other archive material courtesy of Autograph. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund..
“The aim of the Black Chronicles series is to open up critical inquiry into the archive to locate new knowledge, and support our ongoing mission to continuously expand and enrich photography’s cultural histories. Based on current research, the portraits unearthed as part of Black Chronicles constitute the most comprehensive body of photographs depicting the black subject in Victorian Britain.
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. Their complex studio portrayal opens up a dialogue around the politics of subjectivities and agencies in relation to visual representation: some are presented in ways that convey a sense of pride, dignity and respectability, while others are, arguably, still locked in ethnographic or colonial modes of representation.
At the heart of the exhibition is the desire to re-constitute the archive through what I call ‘remedial curatorial work’: resurrecting figures from archival vaults of oblivion, and re-introducing new, annotated narratives into contemporary consciousness.” – Renée Mussai
Presented by the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD) in partnership with Autograph and Tshisa Boys Productions. Autograph is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
The Missing Chapter/Black Chronicles was supported by Heritage Lottery Fund (UK) between 2013 – 2016. Black Chronicles IV is supported by British Council Connect ZA, The US Mission to South Africa, the National Research Foundation, and the University of Johannesburg. 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).
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