VIAD hosts 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. Curated by Renée Mussai.
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 ABP 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 ABP in 1996.