Collaborative exhibit compares classical and contemporary African archives

When faced with the established portrayal of traditional Africa throughout history, how are contemporary Africans to change their representation? Their quest invites contemplation of what contemporary Africa is, a question that a series of exhibitions at the Walther Collection in Chelsea seeks to answer.

Currently on view at the Walther Collection is the first of a three-part photography exhibition titled “Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive.” This Saturday, in collaboration with Tisch’s Department of Photography and Imaging and University College London, the Collection is also presenting a symposium to further develop substantive questions raised by the exhibit.

Featuring nine art historians and scholars from around the world, the symposium, “Encounters with the African Archive,” will address issues faced by both the historical and contemporary African archive, with time allotted for the audience to ask questions and participate in discussion.

Historical images convey ethnographic and anthropological approaches to 19th century African photography, while contemporary photographs with a more artistic purpose critically examine these historical approaches. Through their work, current African photographers seek to change the archive’s representation of contemporary Africa.

Discussion at the symposium will be guided to confront this challenge through questions concerning who is depicted, what attitudes are presented and how complex the photographs are.

“It is two academic institutions and the Walther Collection coming together for critical debate,” said Tamar Garb, curator of the exhibit and co-chair of the symposium.

Deborah Willis, professor and chair at Tisch’s Photography and Imaging Department, will serve as co-chair of the symposium alongside Garb.

“The archive is no longer static,” Willis said. “The archive gives voice to images that have been silenced through the anthropological view.”

“Encounters with the African Archive” will be held at NYU’s Silver Center on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. To attend, RSVP with an email to [email protected] or call 212-352-0683.

Emily McDermott is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]