PDN Photo of the Day

Looking to the Future Inside Africa’s Portrait Studios

A group exhibition tracing the legacy of studio portraiture in Africa is on view at Yossi Milo Gallery through August 23. The featured works range from the mid-20th century to the present. 

Portrait photography has long claimed a central role in Africa’s photographic history. By the early 1900s, European and African practitioners had established permanent studios in most West African capitals. By mid-century, the widespread cultural adoption of the medium had set the stage for the outpouring of artistic innovation that took place as many African countries gained independence in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

In African Spirits, images are on display by celebrated masters from West Africa’s “golden era” of studio photography (1950s-80s), including Samuel Fosso, Seydou Keïta, J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Malick Sidibé and Sanlé Sory. These photographers experimented with aesthetic vocabularies such as props, painted backdrops and self-portraiture, to reflect the new ideas of identity emerging alongside independence.

Contemporary works in the exhibition address present-day audiences and concerns. For example, the importance of tying oneself to a global consumer culture can be observed in images by artist Hassan Hajjaj that demonstrate the international nature of popular culture, fashion and music. Queer-identified artists such as Kyle Meyer and Zanele Muholi  “extend the revolutionary capacity of the photographer’s studio to assert the independence, relevance and power of subjects facing harassment and persecution” states the press release.

As a whole, African Spirits highlights the ways the energies of groundbreaking forebears are revived and reinterpreted by contemporary artists. Then, as now, young generations look to a brighter future, whether by capturing their vibrant youth culture or holding power accountable.

African Spirits
Yossi Milo Gallery
Through August 23, 2019

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