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Photography and the Archive in the African Diaspora

Symposium to explore how photographic archives inform history, artistic practice

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May 13, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Leading scholars and artists will gather at Northwestern University Thursday, May 22, to explore the ways that photographic archives and the lack of photographic records inform historical, artistic, photographic and performance practices in the African diaspora.

The one-day symposium, “Photography and the Archive in the African Diaspora,” will take place from 1 to 8 p.m. at Northwestern’s Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle, on the University’s Evanston campus. The event, which is presented by the department of art history, is free and open to the public.

Symposium participants include scholars actively involved in the interpretation or creation of recent archival projects as well as contemporary artists who engage photographic archives in their artistic practice. They will present new perspectives on photography and propose innovative ways of reading archival remains to introduce new histories and novel understandings of photography.  

Deborah Willis will deliver closing remarks. A MacArthur “genius” award winner, she is an art photographer and leading historian of African American photography at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Krista Thompson, Northwestern associate professor of art history in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and author of “An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque,” organized the symposium. 

Symposium participants include:

 • Tina Campt, Barnard College professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies and author of “Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender and Memory in the Third Reich” and “Why Images Move Us,” a book exploring family photographs of black Germans and black Britons from the turn of the 20th century through the 1960s.

Saidiya Hartman, Columbia University professor of English and comparative literature and author of “Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth Century America” and “Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route” and essays on photography, film and feminism.

Leslie Hewitt, an artist and art historian at Barnard College, who has engaged photographic archives and notions of time in her work and been featured in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem.

Roshini Kempadoo, a photographer, media artist and lecturer whose recent work as a digital artist includes photographs and screen-based interactive art installations that fictionalize Caribbean archive material, objects and spaces to evoke hidden and untold narratives. 

Jacqueline Stewart, University of Chicago professor of cinema and media studies, director of the South Side Home Movie Project and author of “Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity.”

In addition to the department of art history, the symposium is sponsored by Northwestern’s Center for African American History, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and Black Arts Initiative.

For a complete list and biographies of symposium participants and for details about presentations, visit Photography and the Archive in the African Diaspora.

Topics: Campus Life