Video Art and Africa

Katarzyna Falęcka, Centre d'Études Maghrébines à Tunis (CEMAT)

Gabriella Nugent, UCL,

This session explores histories of video art in Africa. Developed in the 1960s, video art emerged in the era of decolonisation, and its accessible technologies were later taken up by many artists. It is a medium of relative historical recentness and today favoured by artists operative in global contemporary networks. However, in comparison to the vast and growing literature on African cinema, there is relatively little scholarship on video art from the continent. This session seeks to explore how artists from Africa have specifically employed the languages enabled by video, such as montage, the loop, repetition and duration, to work through both the distant and more recent pasts.

The archival turn in art has led artists to rework historical documents through video to elucidate local experiences and to contest old and clichéd assumptions with something previously unthought, unheard or unseen. These practices raise questions as to who owns history and how historical documents can be performed within the distinct needs and expectations of the present. They work through histories of colonialism, decolonisation and nation-building projects. Simultaneously, video art has stepped in to address feminist histories, questions of labour, race and class, as well as transregional alliances. The panel consists of papers that explore the potential, as well as possible shortcomings, of video art for addressing these histories and questions.

Speakers and Abstracts

The Revolution will be Live: Video and mediated citizenship in neo-colonial Africa

Nomusa Makhubu (Michaelis School of Fine Art)



Video is regarded as a democratic medium based on the fact that anyone can record using basic devices (mobile phones, for example). Over the years, video culture has increasingly become central in establishing social solidarity in various social movements. The immediacy of video in recording and showing injustice has had an impact on political dynamics globally. In its early stages, video gained popularity as “home video” where people documented their everyday lives. Home video became an important medium in establishing film repertoires in video-film across the continent. As the technology of video recording improved so did its efficacy as a tool for public participation, probing the intricacies of everyday life. In the context of decolonial movements on the African continent which question modern governance and citizenship, video becomes a key medium through which social practice can be documented, intervened or altered. Through analyses of works by Bonolo Kavula and Masello Motana, I explore the intersecting narratives in the struggle for social justice.



Travelling Sprits: Music videos and the globalisation of the Vodun archive

Niklas Wolf (Ludwig-Maximilians-University)

Vodun as a term refers to both the religion and its protagonists in the form of spirits and/or powerful pictorial and archival objects; their syncretistic religious practice is open to foreign influences. Originating in West Africa, the term and its things were first globalised following the routes of the Black Atlantic. Being closely associated with specific concepts of identity and alterity, they nowadays take part in forming a very much contemporary understanding of being African – especially in diasporic contexts – using equally contemporary pictures and media.

In his music videos, Ghanian musician and filmmaker Samuel Bazawule (Blitz the Ambassador) addresses issues of having a Double Consciousness (2005) or being Diasporadical (2016). The 2016 music album was accompanied by a 14-minute video. In three acts, Blitz tells the story of a woman living three different lives, somehow simultaneously, on different continents, connected through visual metaphors and the Voduns network of archival things. Episodically, closely interwoven encounters between times, spaces and worlds are being traced, using the music video’s specific technique and materiality.

Togolese hip-hop artist Elom20ce shows messy accumulations of the material culture of Vodun in his music videos to address experiences of violence, hegemony and (neo)colonialism, describing himself as an Arctivist, an archivist and (visual) activist at the same time. Ghanian self-proclaimed witch and musician Azizaa Mystic uses colours, dresses, bodily practices and objects of the Vodun to express a new kind of self-conscious and Ewe-based femininity in her videos (Black Magic Woman, Voodoo Pussy).

The Use of Digital Technologies in Video Art: Somewhere between fiction and play

Soukaina Aboulaoula (Biennale Internationale de Casablanca)

Over the last few years, a new wave of a young generation of video artists of the Maghrebi diaspora has been using digital technologies such as 3D animation, motion capture, Instagram filters and other post-production methods to address issues including gender inequality and identity, as well as social questions. These artists use a language borrowed from reality TV, pop video clips, suburban and working-class imagery, and Maghrebi cultural and social codes to deconstruct the clichés and the prejudgments built around them. Their work not only consists of re-enacting scenes from the Maghrebi youth culture but also follows a rhetorical démarche, and often comes as an exaggeration or hyperboles of real characters and/or situations from their countries of origins. In this paper, I will look at the work of Sara Sadik, Meriem Bennani and Salim Bayri. I propose to examine the work of these artists and the methods used by them to encapsulate these narratives. Moreover, I will focus on the politics and mechanisms of showing their works in diasporic contexts. Put differently, is irony a rhetorical tool of choice for these artists or are they simply reinforcing the prejudgments they encounter? Are they finding inspiration in their countries of origin or are they reappropriating these codes? Who is their audience? And how can one begin to read their works?

Sites of Retrospective Reading: Video art and distant pasts

Katarzyna Falęcka (Centre d'Études Maghrébines à Tunis (CEMAT))

Since the 1990s, artists in and from Algeria have increasingly begun to explore the photographic archives of the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62), one of the most prolific wars of decolonisation. Notably, their engagements with historical collections have unfolded against ongoing political disputes surrounding the return of archives pertaining to the war from France to Algeria. According to Algerian archivists, France illegally removed 600 tonnes of documents from its former colony in 1962; the French speak of the ‘repatriation’ of one quarter of the number given by their Algerian counterparts. This paper will discuss video works by artists including Katia Kameli and Zineb Sedira which engage with the politics of archives of decolonisation. It will argue that by foregrounding questions of gender, family, migration and internationalism, these works present us with multidirectional ways of reading historical collections beyond the state-led discourse on national sovereignty and heritage. Specifically, the paper will explore how the medium of video art facilitates the reframing of archives of war as sites of retrospective reading, effectively proposing new forms of custodianship over historical material.

Repetitive Rituals: Wangechi Mutu and Kitso Lynn Lelliott
Gabriella Nugent
(The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS))

This paper considers the role of video in making visible the everyday domestic labour of African women, often absent from the historical archive. I will look at two videos, Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu’s The End of Carrying All (2015) and Botswanan-born South African-based artist Kitso Lynn Lelliott’s By and By Some Trace Remains (2015), in which the protagonists are played by the artists themselves. Mutu’s The End of Carrying All traces the journey of a woman carrying an ever-expanding basket across an increasingly barren and rocky landscape, while Lelliott’s By and By Some Trace Remains watches two overlapping female spectres, dressed alternatively in modern and 19th-century clothes, cleaning a confined space at the former women’s jail at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. In each of the videos, the repetitive movements of the women attest to their endurance and toil, which I argue are echoed in the mechanisms of video itself, from the labour of its creation to its duration and the function of the loop. Moreover, the clashing temporalities of video enable a consideration of women’s domestic servitude across time.

FUTURE-WORLD-EXV: Re-imagining gazes of feminine models in contemporary visual culture through video art

Wilfred Ukpong (Blazing Century Studios, Nigeria)

Over the past three decades, video art has increasingly become an accepted genre of visual expression in the field of contemporary African art and also as a veritable form of visual culture. African artists, such as their counterparts in the West, have been experimenting with this new medium, and often presented in two varieties; either as an installation with multiple projectors or as a stand-alone monitor, conceived as an art form.

In the age of new technologies, recent advances in digital computers, video cameras and softwares have enabled artists in the continent to capture, edit and manipulate digital film sequences, thus opening a wide range of creative opportunities to explore the medium itself and also as a visual platform to engage with prevalent sociocultural, political and environmental issues.

In this framework of visual practices, and also as a reflective commentary on my recent single-channel video installation, FUTURE-WORLD-EXV presented during the FOTOFEST BIENNIAL 2020 in Houston, this paper will examine the use of video art as a crucial tool to re-imagine the gazes of feminine models within the African cosmology and specifically in the context of contemporary visual culture in the Niger-Delta, my homeland in Southern Nigeria.

In the attempt to re-envision and reframe the seemingly colonial gazes of the feminine models, this project posits to challenge the perception and notion of the female body, yet in various otherworldly spaces, temporalities and universes. This endeavour recapitulates the female body, not as fragile, subordinate or stereotypical undervalued subjects, but as bold models of power, prowess and spirituality, underscoring their unique demonstration of resilient corporeality and transfiguration as ‘models of social change’.

At the Edges of Empire

Ian Bourland (Georgetown University)

For many lens-based artists, the so-called ‘global turn’ of the 1990s meant a return to more starkly realist approaches to making work that mapped new and extant economic systems. This broadly corresponded with a proliferation of new photographic practices in Africa (and new attention to those from Africa’s recent history), much of which operated in a journalistic mode. In recent years, however, another strategy from the era has emerged as perhaps the more vital one: the film essay, with its emphasis on archival and staged material, and capacity to mediate, memory and trauma. This is particularly true in the case of two artists separated by a generation – John Akimfrah (b. Ghana, works in UK) and Gerald Machona (b. Zimbabwe, works in South Africa). Both use video as a medium for taking up the legacy of earlier photographers and filmmakers (Steve McQueen, Allan Sekula) in order to chart extractive economies near and far.

Cryptographic Video: CUSS Group’s Video Party 4 (2014)

Delinda Collier (School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

CUSS Group’s Video Party 4 (2014) was a performance of a digital video artwork in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe. Cuss Group broadcast a music video, Felony/Stalker 7, by the British conceptual artist/pop musician Dean Blunt. It was projected onto a screen mounted atop a car, played by a laptop computer in the trunk of another car. The resulting work is a documentation of the performance, as well as a finished work itself. Drilling into the media layers in this work, my paper will argue that the low-fi and glitch aesthetic, the file-sharing transmission, and impersonations in CUSS Group’s and Blunt’s work amount to a cryptographic method of video art. The work belongs to a genealogy of cryptography in Africa and the African diaspora, used to create shadow public spheres away from scrutiny and ownership.





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