A group of 27 scholars, specialists in the field of African visual cultures met at the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor over a four-day period November 25- 28, 2018 to share work and to spark discussions around film and photography in Africa, both from the continent and its multiple diasporas. The conference organizers were Kelly Askew (U-M) and Pamila Gupta (WiSER, University of Witwatersrand); it is part of a larger U-M and WiSER Mellon funded collaboration that brings scholars from the North and Global South into conversation on a range of themed topics.
Participants came from South Africa, Mozambique, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and from various institutions in the US including U-M, Michigan State, Emory University, Wesleyan College, City University of New York, the University of Texas-El Paso, University of California-Santa Barbara, and Bard College. The conference started on late Sunday afternoon with a guided tour of the Beyond Borders: Global Africa exhibit at U-M Museum of Art (UMMA) with curator Laura De Becker. The exhibit brought together an array of works made in Africa, Europe, and the United States from the nineteenth to twenty-first century to portray the international reach of art from Africa and the African diaspora. The exhibit was followed by an opening reception hosted by the African Studies Center for all the conference participants. Monday was a full day of papers and presentations on a wide spectrum of exciting topics, including South African photographer Zanele Muholi, African female filmmakers, Nollywood, South African actor Ken Gampu, Nigerian photography albums and funeral brochures, the South African film The Wound, Tanzanian cinematic images, Zulu policemen photographs, and family photo collections from South Africa and Zanzibar. Tuesday was also a full day of presentations on a range of topics: African nationalism and film-making, South African art markets and photography, African diaspora filmmakers, South African photographer Ernest Cole, official state photography in Zimbabwe, TAZARA film stories from Tanzania and Zambia, and the politics of the Polaroid Corporation that connects Civil Rights movements in the US with anti-apartheid activism in South Africa.
Visual interludes were included through the days and evenings of the conference. Sunday evening featured a film screening of Frieda Ekotto’s The Vibrancy of Silence, while conference participants went on a mid-morning Monday guided tour with South African photographer Omar Badsha and his specially-mounted exhibit entitled Seedtimes. Monday evening featured a photography workshop organized by Derek Peterson (U-M) and Richard Vokes (University of Western Australia) entitled, Picturing Idi Amin: Planning for a new Exhibition at the National Museum of Uganda. Conversations on the topic of curation and ethics continued long past the anticipated two-hour time slot. Just as the conference opened with a powerful photographic exhibition on apartheid South Africa by Omar Badsha, it was concluded with a filmic presentation by Mozambican filmmaker Rui Assubuji and his award winning documentary film entitled, The Art of Healing: A Portrait of Lizette Chirrime (2018). On Wednesday, the last day of the conference, Kelly Askew and Pamila Gupta organized an open morning session where they gathered ideas from the conference participants on moving forward with a publication based on the exciting presentations that put photography and film into conversation, pushing the boundaries of both.