As you enter the first room of A World In Common: a new exhibition at TATE Modern featuring African contemporary photography, you are welcomed by the bold work Nigerian Monarchs from acclaimed photographer George Osodi.
In his portraits, Osodi gorgeously depicts royals, in full regalia, from kingdoms across the country that have challenged, and keep on challenging, histories of colonialism. Powerful subjects sit in adorned robes and jewels that match their wider background. Faced with roles and stories, Westerners have historically been unfamiliar with from the get-go, the exhibition immediately promotes its mission: evoking empowerment, highlighting erased stories, and using the medium of photography to shape a new artistic representation of African narratives.
British-Ghanaian curator Osei Bonsu splits the space into three chapters: ‘Identity and Tradition,’ ‘Counter Histories,’ and ‘Imagined Futures’ and takes visitors on a journey where they encounter traditional spiritualities, masks, histories of resistance, family portraits, climate change, colonial and decolonial narratives and are finally left with work that taps into their imagination.
The majestic piece A History of a City in a Box from Ndidi Dike takes over one of the rooms. Filling hundreds of discarded file boxes with archival documents, some of which go back to the colonial era, she explores the power information holds – especially when hidden: “Information is one of the greatest currencies in Lagos,” she states, “it is inaccessible to the people, and only permitted to those in power.”
Angolan photographer Delio Jasse distorts a collection of photographs he found at a flea market; the photographs feature a Portuguese family living in Mozambique in the 1960s, despite the almost complete lack of Black people in them. By overlaying them with passport and visa stamps, he explores personal uses of photography in the colonial era.
Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh explores the impact of climate change and how access to clean water is becoming widespread. Instead of approaching the topic with stereotypical imagery, she uses traditional African body painting on women’s bodies to represent drought.
Closing this powerful exhibition is Julianknxx’s artwork In Praise Of Still Boys: a video delving into the connections between the African diaspora, the Middle Passage, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. The artist blends his ancestral fight with a wider global history for liberation by highlighting the story of the Krios (Sierra Leonean Creoles) – freedom seekers looking to reclaim agency in the country.
Art from the African continent is still far between in Western galleries and too often still approached with a monolithic and/or fetishistic lens. A World In Common is a one-of-a-kind exhibition that celebrates the global talent of the 36 featured photographers with a narrative embedded in political resistance. Blending beauty and politics, visitors will be left with a powerful mark.
The exhibition runs at TATE Modern until the 14th of January 2024. Book a ticket here.
Discover more Arts and Culture articles here.