The Spirit of Africa

The history of photography in Africa is intertwined with colonialism, but African photographers have seized the camera as a tool of liberation, reimagining the continent’s possibilities.

A World in Common at Tate Modern demonstrates how African photography delves into the realm of inner expression. The featured works incorporate the past, mixing contemporary fashion with tribal masks, and blending African spiritualism with Christianity and Islam.

The artists aim to create a holistic African state of mind, challenging the overused label of “Afrofuturism” and emphasizing the multiplicity of African perspectives.

Early entrepreneurial white photographers in Africa catered to the well-to-do locals, resulting in formal portraits reflecting “internal colonization.” However, as the medium shifted into the hands of African photographers, it captured the spirit of post-independence Pan-Africanism.

Contemporary photographers like Atong Atem, Ruth Ginika Ossai, and Hassan Hajjaj have embraced vibrant colors, patterns, and bold aesthetics in their studio portraits, challenging Western notions of portraiture and Arab women.

Aïda Muluneh, a prominent African photographer, constructs captivating tableaux that combine dreamlike imagery, striking colors, and strong female perspectives. Her work addresses important issues such as access to water and women’s labor.

The curator, Osei Bonsu, emphasizes the importance of thinking the world from Africa and gaining a more expansive understanding of humanity. The exhibition ultimately illustrates how Africa is shaping global culture, challenging previous notions of cultural dominance and highlighting the mutual influence between Africa and the West.

Featured Image: Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman (2013). Credit: Wura-Natasha Ogunji/Ema Edosio


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