Archive for the ‘Imagining Africa’ Category
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie shares her thoughts about how popular stories may create one-sided, single, images about places and individuals. These ‘single stories’, she argues, lead to misunderstanding the complexity of the lives of others; it emphasises difference and robs people of their dignity.
She beautifully illustrates this with stories of her own life and argues that we need a balance of stories between the culturally and economically powerful and those whose stories often remain unheard.
This piece should be read by every Hollywood actor, adventure travel writer and aid-worker out there who talks about “Africa”.
Interestingly, the video was produced for (red)wire, the online plattform of Bono.
You must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment.
I wonder if Bono has ever read this text himself and if it made any impression on him, since his often patronizing “I am the voice of the starving Africa” posture might well have been a basis the for Wainaina’s text.
A great post by Robert Hariman published at Sociological Images. Hariman compares two photographs of the Iranian New Year celebrations in Afghanistan and Iran. Like I described in a previous post, this example also reveals how western orientalist preconceptions are reflected in photography:
Hariman writes that:
That image is one of throngs of working class men massed together in the street. What little business is there is in the open air markets lining each side of the densely packed urban space. We see small batches of everyday goods on display–probably to be bartered for, no less. The open baskets of food are a sure marker of the underdeveloped world.[…] Everything fits together into a single narrative, but the masses of men and boys make the scene politically significant. This is the place where collective delusions take hold, where mobs are formed, and where unrest can explode into revolutionary violence and Jihad.
Here he writes:
In this photo, there is no Arab street nor Iranian masses dominated by Mullahs and demagogues. A middle class tableau reveals that so much of what is in fact ordinary life for many people in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East is never seen in the US. And it isn’t seen because it doesn’t fit into simplistic categories, outdated stereotypes, and a dominant ideology. All that is shown and implied in the cliches is of course also there, but it is there as part of a much more complex and varied social reality.
I came across an interesting article by Okwui Enwezor on the power of photography in Africa. Enzewor laments that our image of Africa is shaped by Western photography, which “seems often to evoke pathological images of disease, corruption and poverty”:
“No other cultural landscape has had a more problematic association with the photographic medium: its apparatus, various industries, orders of knowledge, and hierarchies of power. The act of photographing Africa has often been bound up with a certain conflict of vision: between how Africans see their world and how others see that world. In a way, this is a clash of lenses, a struggle to locate and represent Africa by two committed but disparate sensibilities — one intensely absorbed in its social and cultural world, the other passing through it, fleetingly, on one assignment or another.”
Okwui Enwezor is curator of “Snap Judgements”, an exhibition of contemporary African photography. It was presented in 2006 in Miami. Here is a slideshow of some of the photographs that are part of the exhibition.
The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung recently had an online photo gallery that presented the pity, infantilisation and paternalism Enwezor brings up. The gallery is juxtaposed with parts of Uzodinma Iweala’s essay “Stop trying to ‘save’ Africa“.
PS: Why this post on the image of Africa in photography? The IFA Gallery in Berlin currently displays a selection of the Bamako biennal “African Enounters of Photography”: Spot on … Bamako