March 8 – April 19, 2020, Citywide
Curated by Mark Sealy MBE, Director of the renowned London-based photographic art institution Autograph ABP, African Cosmologies is a large-scale group exhibition that examines the complex relationships between contemporary life in Africa, the African diaspora, and global histories of colonialism, photography, and rights and representation. The exhibition considers the history of photography as one closely tied to a colonial project and Western image production, highlighting artists who confront and challenge this shortsighted, albeit canonized lineage.
Taking its cues from John Coltrane’s avant-garde jazz oeuvre, wherein formal modernisms of the past are made complex by radical imagination and black-futurity, this presentation of diverse ideas, artistic approaches, and material histories proposes a “cosmological exploration” of Africa and the African diaspora — one that defies easy categorization and spatial and temporal boundaries. Succinctly, it explores the very notions of Africa and Africanness beyond traditional geographic and historical lines.
The Biennial artists turn an eye to social, cultural, and political conditions that inform and influence concepts of representation as they pertain to image production and circulation within Africa and beyond. These artists question the ways in which subjectivity is constructed and deconstructed by the camera, and in the process, reveal legacies of resistance by those who defy traditional ideas of sexual, racial, gender-based, and other marginalized identities.
The artists featured in the Biennial 2020 Central Exhibition include:
Faisal Abdu’Allah (UK)
Akinbode Akinbiyi (Nigeria/UK)
Hélène A. Amouzou (Togo/Belgium)
Sammy Baloji (Congo/Belgium)
James Barnor (Ghana/UK)
Bruno Boudjelal (France/Algeria)
Edson Chagas (Angola)
Ernest Cole (South Africa)
Jamal Cyrus (United States)
Jean Depara (Angola/Congo)
Laura El-Tantawy (Egypt/UK)
Samuel Fosso (Cameroon/France)
Eric Gyamfi (Ghana)
Lyle Ashton Harris (United States)
Samson Kambalu (Malawi/UK)
Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigeria)
Leo with Shobun Baile (Brazil/United States)
Mónica de Miranda (Angola/Portugal)
Santu Mofokeng (South Africa)
Sethembile Msezane (South Africa)
Zanele Muholi (South Africa)
Aïda Muluneh (Ethiopia)
Eustáquio Neves (Brazil)
Nyaba L. Ouedraogo (Burkino Faso/France)
Rosana Paulino (Brazil)
Dawit L. Petros (Eritrea/United States/Canada)
Aida Silvestri (Eritrea/UK)
Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South Africa/United States)
Wilfred Ukpong (Nigeria/France)
Carrie Mae Weems (United States)
Zina Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria/United States)
Curator Mark Sealy writes, “The impact and the gravitational pull of the contemporary African photographic artist on the universe of photography has resulted in photography’s traditional epistemes–its deadly colonialities–being reluctantly dragged into processes of remaking, delinking and rethinking the work of images in culture. The artists presented in African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and Other are not simply reflective commentators, travelers, flaneurs, or self-appointed interpreters, rather they represent a commitment to human well-being and the production and sharing of new and old knowledges.”
ADDITIONAL AFRICAN COSMOLOGIES PROGRAMS
An exhibition book co-published by FotoFest and Schilt Publishing will be produced in conjunction with the FotoFest Biennial 2020, African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other. The publication will feature images by the included artists and essays by Steven Evans, Christine Eyene, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Azu Nwagbogu, Olu Oguibe, and Mark Sealy.
FotoFest is organizing a series of films with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to accompany the African Cosmologiesexhibition. Dates and titles to be announced in January 2020.
A symposium exploring the themes and artists of the African Cosmologies program will take place March 21, 2020 from 10-5pm at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The symposium will include panels and presentations from Biennial artists with experts on contemporary and historic African history, diaspora, colonization, art and photography. Details and participants to be announced in January 2020.
Other public cultural programs, including artist talks and tours, culinary, music, literary, and family events are planned, and will be announced as finalized.
ABOUT MARK SEALY, BIENNIAL 2020 CURATOR
Dr. Mark Sealy MBE is interested in the relationships between photography and social change, identity politics, race, and human rights. He has been director of London-based photographic arts institution Autograph ABP since 1991 and has produced numerous artist publications, curated exhibitions, and commissioned photographers and filmmakers worldwide, including the critically acclaimed exhibition Human Rights Human Wrongs at Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto in 2013 and at The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 2015.
Sealy has written for international photography publications, including Foam Magazine, Aperture, Creative Camera and Next Level, and written numerous essays for publications and artist monographs. In 2002, Sealy and professor Stuart Hall coauthored Different, which focuses on photography and identity politics. Recent notable projects include the exhibition The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding / Decoding for the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto and critically acclaimed exhibitions on the works of James Van Der Zee, Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems, Rotimi Fani-Kayode and on the works of Mahtab Hussain and Maud Sulter.
His most recent book, Decolonising the Camera: Photography in Racial Time, was published in 2019 by Lawrence and Wishart.
Founded in Houston in 1983, FotoFest promotes international awareness of museum-quality photographic and new media art from around the world. The first and longest running photographic arts festival in the United States, the first FotoFest Biennial was held in 1986. It is considered one of the leading international photography Biennials in the world.
As an international platform for photographic and new media art, the FotoFest Biennial has become known as a showcase for the discovery and presentation of important new work and talent from around the world. The Biennial takes place citywide in Houston with participation from leading art museums, art galleries, non-profit art spaces, universities and civic spaces. The Biennial has an audience of 275,000 people from 34 countries. This audience includes a select group of 150 museum curators, gallerists, publishers, editors, photography collectors, directors of non-profit art spaces and international festivals from Asia, Europe, Latin America, Canada and the United States.
Early funding for the development and presentation of the FotoFest Biennial 2020 comes from Houston Endowment; The Brown Foundation, Inc.; Texas Commission on the Arts; National Endowment for the Arts; City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance; The Wortham Foundation; FotoFest Board of Directors; Silver Street Studios; and generous donors to the FotoFest Annual Fund.
Major funding for FotoFest’s educational programming is provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, and The Powell Foundation.