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Tate Modern A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography

"A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography" was an exhibition at Tate Modern from July 6, 2023 to January 14, 2024, featuring 36 artists who use photography to redefine Africa's global significance. The exhibition draws inspiration from cultural traditions and contemporary social and political dynamics, encouraging a shared world envisioned through an African perspective. Guided by Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe's ideas, the exhibition challenges stereotypes, exploring diverse and interconnected African realities through three thematic chapters: Identity and Tradition, Counter Histories, and Imagined Futures.

In the first chapter, "Identity and Tradition," the artists delve into the connection between identity and tradition. They explore cultures, religions, and art forms that resisted erasure despite historical challenges. The section covers European and Asian settlements, highlighting the impact of colonization and violence, while celebrating the resilience of Indigenous peoples and emphasizing the ongoing importance of sovereignty. The exploration extends to spirituality, embracing diverse religious practices, challenging stereotypes perpetuated during colonialism, and viewing ritual as a means to connect communities.

"Worrying the Mask" within this chapter addresses the significance of masks in African heritage, their removal during colonial times, and contemporary artists challenging dispossession histories. Artists like Zina Saro-Wiwa explore the politics of identity, gender, and power through photography and performance, urging a reevaluation of mask displays.

The second chapter, "Counter Histories," focuses on the camera's ability to challenge the colonial gaze and present alternative images of the past. It explores studio portraiture as a space for co-production and self-representation, celebrating family portraits as tools for empowerment during the period of independence. "The Living Archive" section explores the post-independence era, where artists use personal artifacts to create counter histories, challenging official narratives and privileging personal perspectives.

The final chapter, "Imagined Futures," explores the impact of globalization and the climate emergency. Artists contemplate futures influenced by shared dreams, rejecting colonial perspectives and embracing a planetary outlook. They address the dilemmas created by Africa's predicted economic growth, environmental exploitation, and global issues disproportionately affecting citizens of the Global South. The exhibition concludes with an epilogue, where artists guide viewers through natural landscapes, encouraging them to envision innovative ways of coexisting on Earth.

Throughout the exhibition, artists promote a shared humanity and inclusive storytelling, challenging conventional thinking and recognizing the multiplicity of perspectives. The exhibition encourages viewers to imagine various futures and emphasizes the agency of Africans in shaping their own destiny, aligning with Senegalese scholar Felwine Sarr's call in "Afrotopia" for Africans to dream of utopia and design their continent independently.


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