The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa

Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery Columbia University, New York, United States
07 Sep 2016 - 10 Dec 2016

The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa

George Osodi, The Marketers from the series Lagos Uncelebrated, 2006. Chromogenic print, 80 x 120 cm (31.5 x 47.2 in.). Courtesy the artist and Z Photographic Ltd.

From 19th-century studio practice through the independence era, 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, DRC) 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 andmise 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.

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.



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 by The Walther Collection
Date/Time: Friday, October 21, 1 – 6pm
Location: Schermerhorn Hall, Room 501
Featured Persenters:
John Fleetwood, former head of the Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg
Kerryn Greenberg, Curator (International Art) at Tate Modern, London
Chika Okeke-Agulu, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Art, Princeton University
[List in formation; please check back for complete information shortly]
Registration required (link to come)

Bringing together a variety of artists, scholars, curators, critics, and cultural producers, the symposium will provide a unique opportunity to discuss current developments in photographic and video practices in Africa and the African Diaspora, as well as the platforms and networks supporting these practices.

Following the symposium, a 6 pm, there will be a viewing of “The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives in Photographic Portraiture from Africa,” on view at the Wallach Art Gallery, and a reception on the 8th Floor, Schermerhorn Hall.


Focus on « Urban Now »: Sammy Baloji and Filip De Boeck
Co-organized with Axis Gallery, NY/NJ and The Open Society
Date/Time: Wednesday, November 2, 2017, 7pm
Location: The Wallach Art Gallery, Schermerhorn Hall, 8th Fl.


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

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