This summer the Stedelijk Museum CS presents Snap Judgments, an exhibition of work by 35 contemporary African artists and photographers with unique perspectives on their own continent. The exhibition reveals how artists are using photography to respond artistically to the enormous changes currently taking place in African economic, social and cultural life. The artists also break away from lingering stereotypical images of their cultures, histories and countries. The exhibition was organised by Okwui Enwezor, adjunct curator at the ICP in New York.
Over the last century, photography has proved to be a vital medium in African culture; however, appreciation of African photographers and their unique visual imagery is a recent phenomenon. By examining the role of visual images in African culture, the exhibition offers a penetrating insight into the rapidly changing social dynamics of the continent. The show includes over 180 works by 35 artists. The majority of the works were produced since 2000, many were commissioned for the exhibition.
Snap Judgments presents photographs from all over the continent, from the Muslim North right down to its southernmost tip. It reveals the vast changes now occurring in African economic, social and cultural life. In addition to revealing individual artistic responses to Africa, Snap Judgments also examines the ways in which its recent photographic art has moved beyond both African traditions and Western influences to explore new aesthetic territories. The show passes over the commercial portrait photography that has dominated the African scene in recent decades and focuses instead on Africa’s increasingly important documentary and fashion photography, as well as conceptual art.
The exhibition highlights several themes. Artists like Zarina Bhimji (Uganda) and Zwelethu Mthethwa (South Africa), make the landscape a vehicle for understanding historical trauma or social alienation. Others focus on the rapid changes occurring in African cities, emphasising urban lifestyles and architectural developments. The human body is also a recurrent subject, sometimes addressed provocatively as in the work of Nigerian-born Oladélé Bamgboyé, who explores the shifting boundaries of identity, gender and sexuality. The history of the continent is likewise represented with many of the younger African artists reconstructing it by challenging or reinventing the narrative of the colonial past.
Some of the participants in Snap Judgments have previously installed work at the Stedelijk Museum. Hentie van der Merwe from South Africa (in 2003) and Hala Elkoussy from Egypt (in 2006) have exhibited work at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. In recent years the Stedelijk Museum presented the work of two members of an earlier generation: Malick Sidibé (from Mali) exhibited at the museum in 2000 and is represented in the collection, as is David Goldblatt, whose work is included in the current show of recent acquisitions, Eyes Wide Open. Mthethwa, Bamgboyé and Elkoussy also have work in the Stedelijk collection.
Snap Judgments was organised by Nigerian-born curator Okwui Enwezor, now on the staff
of the International Center of Photography in New York, where the exhibition was first seen in 2006. Enwezor was previously artistic director of Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany (2002) and worked as an independent curator on a number of exhibitions of African and other contemporary art and photography. The exhibition is accompanied by an English-language publication, Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, containing an essay by Okwui Enwezor (published by ICP/Steidl Verlag).
Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko (South Africa)