The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa

September 7, 2016 – December 10, 2016

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From 19th-century studio practice through the independence era of the 1950s and 1960s, African photography has best been known for modes of portraiture that crystallize subjects’ identities and social milieus.  Even contemporary art photographs are often interpreted as windows into African lives, whether actual or theatricalized. 

This exhibition reconsiders African contemporary photographic portraiture by presenting the work of four artists whose concerns range beyond depicting social identity: Sammy Baloji, Mohamed Camara, Saïdou Dicko, and George Osodi.  Works by these four artists lend greater thematic and formal versatility to the practice of portraiture.

Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, Democratic Republic of Congo) transfers colonial-archival figures to alternate backdrops—the post-colonial site of an abandoned mine, landscape paintings by colonial explorers—in order to activate historical awareness and challenge photographic authority.

Mohamed Camara (b. 1985, Mali) situates his pictures ambiguously between documentary and mise en scène as a means of interrogating photographic portraiture, including its processes and potentials, pleasures and pitfalls. 

Saïdou Dicko (b. 1979, Burkina Faso) captures the shadow silhouettes of individuals on sunlit streets—a strategy that references photographic processes and unsettles portrait conventions, while still conveying subjects’ expressivity.

George Osodi (b.1974, Nigeria) produces pictures whose anonymous or fictional subjects reveal dissonance with their surroundings, thereby examining human consequences of broader political phenomena.

The Expanded Subject from Columbia University News on Vimeo.

Viewed together, works by Baloji, Camara, Dicko, and Osodi complicate common understandings of portraiture from Africa.  Baloji’s montages dislocating the subject historically, Camara’s reflexive gaze, Dicko’s uncertainty with respect to the possibility of representation, and Osodi’s political commentary all expand the range of portraiture and offer new ways of contemplating photographic subjectivities. 

The project and has been made possible by an endowment established by Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.
The Wallach Art Gallery is grateful to lenders Sammy Baloji (Axis Gallery, New York); Mohamed Camara (Galerie Pierre Brullé, Paris); Saïdou Dicko; George Osodi; The Walther Collection, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Joshua I. Cohen, Assistant Professor of African Art History, Art Department, The City College of New York and 2016-17 Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellowship at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; PhD, Columbia University Department of Art History and Archaelogy.

Sandrine Colard, PhD Candidate, Columbia University Department of Art History and Archaeology.

Giulia Paoletti, 2016-18 Andrew Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and theAmericas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Core Lecturer, Columbia University Department of Art History and Archaeology; PhD, Columbia University Department of Art History and Archaeology.

The Expanded Subject extends research undertaken by each of the curators during their doctoral studies in Art History at Columbia University.

Exhibition programming:

Curators' Tour
Exhibition curators will lead visitors in a personal walk through the exhibition.
Date/Time: Friday, September 23, 4pm
Location: The Wallach Art Gallery, Schermerhorn Hall, 8th Fl.

Symposium / Beyond the Frame: Contemporary Photography from Africa and the Diaspora
Co-organized with The Walther Collection
Date/Time: Friday, October 21, 1 - 6:30 pm
Location: Schermerhorn Hall, Room 501

Beyond the Frame brings together leading international scholars, curators, artists, and cultural producers to engage with the multiple perspectives, conceptual themes, and circumstances shaping the work of the current generation of African photographic and video artists.

Symposium Program

1:00 PM: Welcome & Introductions

-Z.S. Strother, Riggio Professor of African Art, Columbia U.
-Artur Walther Founder, The Walther Collection

Session 1 – Artistic Practices

1:30 PM
Opening remarks by Session Chair
- Chika Okeke-Agulu, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Art, Princeton University

1:40 PM
The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives in Photographic Portraiture from Africa
- Sandrine Colard, PhD Candidate, Columbia U.

2:00 PM
Itinerancy Through the Lens
- M. Neelika Jayawardane, Assoc. Professor of English, State University of New York-Oswego
- Andrew Esiebo, Multimedia artist and photographer
- Dawit L. Petros, Visual Artist

2:30 PM
Remarks by Session Chair, Questions and Discussion

3.00 PM - BREAK

Session 2 - Contexts

3.30 PM
Opening remarks by Session Chair
- Kerryn Greenberg, Curator (International Art), Tate Modern

3.45 PM
Platforms for African Photography
- Antawan Byrd, PhD candidate, Northwestern University
- John Fleetwood, Director, PHOTO, Johannesburg
- Eva Langret, Tiwani Contemporary, London
- Artur Walther, Founder, The Walther Collection
- Allison Moore, Asst. Professor, African and Contemporary Art History, U. of South Florida (Moderator)

4.50 PM
Publishing and Criticism of African Photography
- Emmanuel Iduma, Fiction writer and art critic
- Missla Libsekal, Founder, Another Africa
- Yvette Mutumba (via skype), Curator, Contemporary And
- John Peffer, Associate Professor of Contemporary/Nonwestern Art History, Ramapo College
- Brendan Wattenberg, Managing Editor, Aperture Magazine (Moderator)

5.55 PM
Remarks by Chair, Questions, and Discussion

6.20 PM
Closing Remarks
- Deborah Cullen, Director & Chief Curator, The Wallach Art Gallery

6.30 PM
Reception at The Wallach Art Gallery, which will be open for viewing The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives in Photographic Portaiture from Africa
8th Floor, Schermerhorn Hall

Beyond the Frame is organized by Joshua Chuang, Evelyn Owen, and Oluremi C. Onabanjo for The Walther Collection and Giulia Paoletti, Joshua I. Cohen, and Sandrine Colard for The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery and the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University.

For more information the following files are available for online viewing or download:

Symposium Video Links
Symposium Program

Media Release

Focus on "Urban Now": Sammy Baloji and Filip De Boeck
Co-organized with Axis Gallery, NY/NJ, Open Society Foundations and the Department of Art History and Archaeology
Date/Time: Wednesday, November 2, 2016, 7pm
Location: Schermerhorn Hall, Room 612

- Introduction by Z.S. Strother, Riggio Professor of African Art, Columbia University

- Screening of Pungulume (2016) by Sammy Baloji; 31:21

- Conversation with Sammy Baloji and Filip de Boeck, moderated by Giulia Paoletti, co-curator of The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives in Photographic Portraiture from Africa on view at the Wallach Art Gallery

- Screening of The Tower: A Concrete Utopia (2016) by Sammy Baloji & Filip de Boeck; 1:10:19

The gallery will be open for viewing prior to the screening from 5-7 pm, and for a reception and viewing at the conclusion of the event

Family Day/Columbia Harlem Art Sunday
Date/Time: Sunday, November 13, 12 - 5pm
Location: The Wallach Art Gallery Schermerhorn Hall, 8th Fl./Columbia Univ. Morningside Campus

Join us for free guided tours of the exhibition! Families will have the opportunity to make photo-portraits, participate in collage workshops with African fabrics and take their embellished creations home!

Event Poster

All ages welcome!

All programs are held in collaboration with the Dept. of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University and are free and open to the public.

Related Publication:

The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives in Photographic Portraiture from Africa
Joshua I. Cohen, Sandrine Colard, and Giulia Paoletti, preface by Z. S. Strother
Co-published by the Wallach Art Gallery with Hirmer Verlag, 2015
10 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches; 128 pages,  51 color illustrations; ISBN: 9783777426327

Available at the gallery and distributed by University of Chicago Press