Indian Ocean Symposium 2018


– Your Excellency, Dr. Abdullah Al-Thani, colleagues, friends, good morning. The Indian Ocean has been a
theater of human interaction throughout world history with history of documented high-seas trade and material and cultural exchange stretching over more than 3,000 years. In dynamics of domination and resistance, the communication waterways
of the Indian Ocean provided diverse peoples and politics, access to power, material resources, scientific innovation, ideas, religions, workers and wealth. The massive internal market
of the Indian Ocean region precipitated the interaction
of numerous cultures and peoples including
Chinese, Indian, Malay, Persian, Arab and African, and by the 15th century, European. Needless to say, there are significant methodological challenges in conceptualizing the
history of a massive land mass constituted primarily by virtue of the banding power of
a vast body of water. And also challenges retelling this history from the perspective of the sea. And especially so, when arguably, this body of water, like
all maritime regions, is itself a cultural
construct often forged in imperial contexts. Furthermore, oceanic
histories tend to focus on interconnectedness
of cultures, societies and markets that are often
fundamentally fragmented and diverse. And at least in premodern
times, largely land-based. Yet, in addition to the indisputable past and present crucial significance
of the Indian Ocean, however constituted, it
is these very challenges that make the study of the Indian Ocean and its surrounding world so fascinating. And perhaps this is why the faculty here at Georgetown University
in Qatar have identified the Indian Ocean as a key binding locus of their diverse research activities. Last year, the Georgetown University in Qatar Faculty Conference was devoted to the theme of the liberal state and its alternatives in
the Indian Ocean region. Conference participants
analyzed some of the forms that modernity and the
modern state have taken in the Indian Ocean region. As the organizers of
that conference noted, and I’m quoting them here because I can put it in better terms. “Of all the earth’s major regions, “the Indian Ocean contains
the greatest range “of cultures, religions
and political systems. “More than two billion
humans live along the shores “of the ocean and another
half a billion or so “reside in states adjacent
to the oceanic rim. “It is here that many
of the key challenges “facing humanity in the next decades “will face their defining hour. “The Indian Ocean is the
fastest-changing and most.” I’m still quoting. “The Indian Ocean is the fastest-changing, “most unpredictable region on the planet. “The liberal states and its alternatives,” which is the conference
started in the Indian Ocean “were concerned with the erosion of ideas “and practices of liberal
international order “and statehood that have been
hegemonic since the 1950s. “And it’s also concerned with how states, “societies and businesses
across the region “are responding to these changes.” So, you can tell that this is
an extremely important theme. This year’s annual Annual
Indian Ocean Symposium at Georgetown University in Qatar Oceanic Circularities Arts, Ideologies and Identities in the
Indian Ocean will take a closer look at how the immaterial and the material interact with each other, and how certain types of political economy have given rise. Have in turn been shaped by ideologies, identities and social currents
from the Horn of Africa to Southeast Asia. The conference examines
ideologies and social and political debates,
art and architecture and the religious
discourses and connections. To my mind, the richness
of the themes addressed in these two symposiums
illustrate the utility of the concept of the Indian Ocean as a platform for multiple
forms of scholarly exploration. Scholarly exploration of topics of tremendous historical
and contemporary relevance. And I hope that we here
at Georgetown Qatar will be able to sustain our contribution to this important field of research. I think this is a way in
which we could leverage our relative location
and focus on what I think is one of the most interesting topics of academic research in academia. So, on this note, I would like to thank the organizing committee of the symposium, Professor Rogaia
Abusharaf, Harry Verhoeven and Uday Chandra as well as Hagar Rakha who oversaw the planning
of and organization, as you all know. I’m sure you’ve been in touch with her. I would also like to thank our co-sponsors including the Indian
Initiative on Main Campus, and the Center for International
and Regional Studies from within Georgetown
University in Qatar. And I would especially like to thank His Excellency, Dr. Abdullah Al-Thani for his constant support
for this initiative. But, above all, we are
truly thankful to you, to the scholars assembled today from across the Indian
Ocean world and beyond to think through these
exciting academic questions. So, welcome and you know,
I look forward actually to sitting through most of, if not all, of the conference and
to the deliberations. Now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Dr. Prita Meier who will give a keynote presentation, The Surface of Things:
A History of Photography from the Swahili Coast. Dr. Meier is Assistant
Professor of African Art and Architectural History
at New York University. Her research focuses
on the visual cultures and built environment of
east African port cities and histories of transoceanic
exchange and conflict. In addition to numerous
essays, she is the author of Swahili Port Cities: The
Architecture of Elsewhere published in Indiana University in 2016, so it’s fresh from the print. Currently she is working on a new book about the social and aesthetic history of photography in Zanzibar and Mombasa and is completing an
exhibition and edited volume titled World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean which received two NEH
Humanities Projects grants. She has been awarded numerous
prestigious fellowships at the National Gallery
of Art in 2017-’18, at the Clark Art Institute ’14-’15 and Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities 2009-’10, and the Johns Hopkins
University in 2007 and ’09. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Meier. (audience applauding) – So, thank you so much for having me and thank you for that
very kind introduction. For me, it’s especially an
honor and just a delight to finally meet Rogaia in person who has been very kind and very receptive to my work for many, many years now. And in fact, she had
me Skype in or BlueJean into one of these conferences
many, many years ago, so I am delighted to be here
in the flesh, so to speak. So, the talk that I’m giving today is part of a larger book, as you had mentioned that I’m doing on the
history of photography on the Swahili Coast. And this presentation really represents the introduction slash first chapter which really focuses on the
early history of photography. And as you will see from my talk, I’m trying very hard to give
a very close micro history of the early beginnings of
photography on the Swahili Coast to get away from generalities about how mass media culture was
appropriated and transformed in places that we now
call the Global South. But, I just want to emphasize
what I’m saying today is not, I don’t want
to say that photography was used or thought of
this way all the time in Zanzibar or Mombasa. In fact, Laura Fair’s
work and her presentation at the end of the day will show really how cinema culture and mass media culture in the ’50s and ’60s
onwards was very different. So, photography and the
meaning of photography changes rapidly in Zanzibar and Mombasa. And what I’m saying for today is really about the early history, okay? So, let me begin. So, the Swahili Coast of Eastern Africa figures prominently in pictorial remains of European colonization
and empire-making. Today, photo archives
across the world continue to catalog, disseminate
and display thousands of images like these. Pictures and descriptions
of Swahili men and women have long ignited the imagination of Europeans and Americans
because they evoke a much-loved fantasm of exotic women, ruthless slavers and languid harem girls and mysterious hybrid races. This is the part of
the European imaginary. Especially studio women
and postcards depicting Swahili women circulated
all across the Western world during the colonial period when the coast was part of the British Protectorate, roughly 1890 to 1963. Most show young girls in contrived poses meeting the eye of the viewer either with suggestive stares
or with a bright smile. Indeed it is these type
of women and photographs that have been the focus
of scholarly analysis. Now, before I continue, I just want to orient you to the Swahili Coast, although many people in
this room have done research on the Swahili Coast so
know the area quite well. But, in general, the
Swahili Coast is understood to be at the edge of
overlapping ecosystems and Swahili cities have been nodes of transoceanic connectivity
for over a millennium. The diverse peoples who came to be known as the Swahili, after
the Arabic word for edge or a boundary, created a
unique mercantile culture along this narrow coastal region of what is now Kenya and Tanzania. The diverse people who
living on the Swahili Coast, or in Swahili Coast port towns and cities, whose economic livelihood depended on managing the long-distance trade between inland Africa and
the Western Indian Ocean have long been primary traders. And in fact, as you shall see, one of the primary exotic imports, exotic imports consumed, transformed and even reinvented on the Swahili Coast was photography and portraiture. Certainly, much has been written about how such photographs,
that is colonialist photographs, relate to the colonial
gaze and the violence of objectification. Photography endowed racist discourse with the power of the real, and claims about the essential differences between colonizer and
colonized were anchored in photographic representation. But, the representational protocols of photography can, of course, be deployed for diverse ends. While photography was and
is a technology of empire, it is also a technology of self, a sight of embodied experience. That is photographs
are very much artifacts that hold onto people’s lived
experiences and memories. After all, the reality
effect of photography that is somehow connected to the bodies in the photograph can
materialize a person’s presence however mediated and spectral. Especially if one focuses on the sitter in the photograph then
photography’s documentary and social aspects come into focus. Indeed, scholars of the Global South, those regions of the world
that experienced colonization, have been at the forefront of exploring the realist effects of
photography connecting the study of photography to themes of social and political struggle, everyday experience and modernity. For example, Africanists,
which I am one myself, have in the past presented
photos like these that you see here as powerful icons that reveal the sitter’s
agency and selfhood. That is, Africanists
focus on the figuration and bodies and interpret
the poses and gazes of the subjects as signs
of their personality and inner life. But, other aspects of vernacular
or popular photography in Africa remain largely unexplored. And it is my argument that photography was not always about the
real of social experience or that photograph should always be read as representational documents. By delving into the early
history of photography on the Swahili Coast, I
began to see how photographs were not always expressions
of a personal life, but that they expressed murkier,
even intractable meanings, that exist at the intersection
of objectification and haptic experience. Even locally commissioned portraiture, although seemingly about
the sitter’s desire to express some essential aspect of his or her being, was often
about quite the opposite, namely it was about
the thing that scholars are usually trying to get beyond. That is the surface of things. Although it should be emphasized that my talk about surfaces in the study of photography is to talk about surfaces in the history of photography
is not necessarily new. In fact, in a longer version of this talk, I focus on my work moves
beyond previous work on photographic surfacism. But, for now, I just want to say that they surface aspects
that I’m interesting in are not necessarily
revealed through an analysis of the photographs’ formal features. That is that it’s not part of a style or a way of composing
the photographic image. Instead, I want to underscore that on the Swahili Coast,
locals engaged the surface as a site of practice, a
site of playful opacity, one that embraces the distancing and even superficial
qualities of photography. Now, let me give you a
brief historical overview of photography in East Africa. Photographs first became locally available probably in the 1870s or ’80s, arriving as exotic imports
via the mercantile networks that have long connected
the Swahili Coast cities to other trade hubs across
the Western India Ocean. In fact, before European colonization, Swahili Coast residents
avidly collected photographs especially in the form of
carte de visites and postcards like these in their homes. For example, this postcard once belonged to a member of the ruling Busaidi dynasty. Zanzibar was next annexed into the Busaidi Sultanate Oman in 1830s, and was in East Africa was also colonized by the Omani sultanate. The first carte de visite that you see an example here in
pictorial chromolithographs were sold in Zanzibari markets with other South Asian
imports such as textiles, housewares and decorative
ornament destined for the realm of bodily display or to beautify interiors. And this postcard was
originally produced in Lisbon and sent to Zanzibar via Goa. Now, Goa here is not
incidental because Goans opened the first commercial photography studio in Zanzibar and Mombasa
already in the 1870s, which you see examples of here. Often, their studios were also shops selling all kinds of cheap commodities. Although it is often assumed
that Goan photographers came directly from India to Zanzibar, many had been living
in fact in other ports with significant European populations. Gomes, who you see here,
and his family migrated from Aden to Zanzibar
sometime in the 1870s precisely as British
interests in the Indian Ocean were shifting from the coastal towns of the Arabian Peninsula
to the Swahili Coast. They produced portraits for clients, but also kept large
stocks of carte de visites of famous personages, album and prints and picture postcards of
quote/unquote “native studies”. In fact, the images that I showed you at the beginning, the colonialist images, were in fact produced
by Goan photographers for European consumers. So, the exotic size and
gaze that we often associate with European desires
were often manufactured by South Asian photographers
to meet those desires. So, clearly South Asian
photographers at first primarily catered to Europeans living on the Swahili Coast. Yet, soon after opening their shops, the local population embraced
portrait photography, especially wealthy Omani Arabs,
but also Swahili patricians enjoyed visiting Goan studios. Or, if royal, ordering the photographer to come to the palace
as you see on the right in the PowerPoint. But, it is striking that photography on the Swahili Coast did not connect to preexisting local traditions
of pictorial representation or portraiture. Despite the absence of such traditions, the pleasure of looking at, touching and sharing photographs was a pastime instantly embraced by locals. Late-19th and early-20th-century
sources suggest that consuming photographs,
that is by locals, was considered a playful
and tasteful pastime, one that was intimately connected to one’s ability to craft spaces
of tasteful sophistication. One British visitor described
one patrician’s sitting room as, and here I quote, “a tawdry horror “because it was filled with hundreds “of cheap pictures and portraits
of our kings and queens, “typical of the poor taste that prevails “when Africans reject their own culture “for our modern culture”. And, of course, in the
written narratives produced by Europeans, they’re always outraged that the Swahili Coast residents so easily appropriate what they
think, what Europeans think of their culture. But, this interest in collecting and displaying overseas things was not a recent phenomenon on the Swahili Coast. Rather, imported objects
fulfilled an ancient desire for signs and objects
that visualized mobility, exchange and the means to
make the exotic one’s own. It was local tradition for women to stage elaborate
assemblages of imported things giving material form to
the traveling cultures of the Swahili Coast. During the height of the
19th-century economic boon, cheaper and new commodities
flooded the market which also in part gave
new life to old ways of consuming the world. For example, you see
here, Chinese porcelain was a desired import on the Swahili Coast since the 14th century and
its consumption increased with the economic boon
and industrialization in the 19th century. This interior features a
range of imported objects including US mechanical wall clocks, porcelain dishes, French
mirrors, Indian beds, gas lamps, chromolithographs and chromolithographs
of Arabic calligraphy. This is also the earliest documentation of how locals presented photographs and other pictorial works
during the late-19th century in their homes. A series of framed photographs of people, the outlines of heads and
bodies just barely visible in the pictures decorate the walls and columns of this sitting room. Further, large gilded frames, only their lower sections discernible, filled with lithographs of landscapes and portraits hang high above the heads of the five men seated in
the center of the room. Other objects, especially porcelain dishes encircled the pictures and photographs. Here, the photographs are not presented as singular objects. Rather they work in
tandem with other objects to create a sense of teaming surfaces. In contrast to Lamu residents. So, this image is from Lamu. Lamu is a port city in the
northern region of Kenya. Zanzibarese, which you an example of here, displayed photographs in
slightly different ways. Here studio photographs
are a very sensual element of the room’s design program. Three large mounted and framed portraits of men in Omani dress are displayed on the ornate Indo-Portuguese cabinet in the right foreground of the image, and another occupies the small nightstand next to the bed. Each photograph is a distinct thing, not just an element in a
larger mass of other objects. This sitting room at the
British residency in Zanzibar illustrate the similarity
between the display of photography in the
homes of the Arab elite and Europeans living in
Zanzibar or in Mombasa. An example seen here. Just like in the Omani man’s room, here too photographs are staged as distinct objects of display either hung on the room’s wall or placed
on tables and shelves. These photographs were not just bought in the market or acquired
for their exotic objectness, rather they are portraits, keepsakes and mementos of family members. In many ways, this room and
the previous one, of course, are also distinctly
British domestic spaces where the framed picture speak to notions of Victorian homemaking and
middle-class self-fashioning. But, these rooms share
strikingly similar attributes including the Zanzibari one. They were all Baroque displays of ornament cluttered with so much
furniture and bric-a-brac that they overall effect was
one of sensuous surfaces. Consuming and collecting
masses of objects, including photographs, and
here’s an example in Goa and another one from
Mombasa, was a passion shared across diverse communities connected by the networks of the Indian Ocean. Yet, it is important to point out that similarity does not necessarily mean that these extravagant displays were part of only one system of signification. An affinity, that is or similarity, does not mean equivalence. While the framing and
display of photographs in these spaces is
related, each assemblage, each individual photograph likely also meant different things
to the different people using these spaces. Certainly, Swahilis and Arabs collecting and displaying photographs
probably had little interest in the reproducing European notions of Victorian propriety for example. So, what happened when locals
looked into the picture? In fact, now I want to
focus on their significance as portraits, that is
focusing on the bodies in these photographs. But, portraits, but in a different sense. That is portraits that are constituted by a seriality and superficial quality. Now, scholars often assume that people, especially the poor or colonized, wanted portrait photographs of themselves to be seen as emblems
of their individuality. This assumption has a long tradition in mainstream photographic theory. For example, Susan Sontag quote said, “Facing the camera signifies
solemnity, frankness, “the disclosure of the subject’s
essence,” end of quote. But, as Alan Trachtenberg
and his work reminds us, alternative understandings of photography also existed, especially
during its early history. According to him, “The spectral quality “of the photographic portrait suggested “to some 19th-century viewers
that photographic images “manifest a temporary unreal
and contingent identity.” The contingency of likeness and identity is exactly what Swahili
Coast residents cultivated in their engagement with
photographic portraits. Swahili Coast residents certainly knew how to look beyond the surface, so to speak, into the perspectival
depths of the photograph, but it is my argument that
during the 19th century, it was nevertheless consumed primarily as a generic object as part of a genre, especially when printed and framed as a carte de visite, so
very small calling cards that you could exchange. The photograph presented the subject as a traveling transferrable
and interchangeable type. The physical qualities
of carte de visites, their sturdy format, small size, further heightened their serial quality allowing them to travel with relative ease across great distances and
between different communities. Sultan Barghash, who you see in both of these carte de visites, was the first Swahili Coast resident who used the photograph as a genre of long-distance communication. He embraced its formalaic seriality as a tool of persuasion and diplomacy orchestrating the
circulation of photographs and mass-produced images of himself across various publics. For example, he proudly
reprinted engravings based on photographs published
and illustrated London news of his public appearances
when he toured Europe in 1875, and kept a scrapbook of those images and showed them regularly to his guests. He also commissioned
these carte de visites that you see here of himself from the most fashionable
photography studio in London. This studio, that is Maull and Company, specialized in serving
social and political elites of England, including members
of the British Parliament. Once Barghash returned to Zanzibar, he would present these carte de visites as gifts to Europeans
and that his visitors and European residents in Zanzibar. Barghash also included
signed carte de visites of himself in diplomatic missives at least in those written to Europeans. For example, his carte de visite seen on the left accompanied
his letter to Roger Price, a British missionary. This letter entreated Price
to remind powerful politicians that is it was he, that is Barghash, whom might their work,
that is colonization, in Central Africa possible. By the 1880s, European accounts are filled with stories about being presented signed carte de visites at the conclusion of their audiences with the sultans and other powerful locals in Zanzibar. Not surprisingly, almost
all public portraits of this time period are formulaic with backdrops and poses
that could be found in many places across the globe. As can be seen in Barghash’s
picture here on the left, he holds his body according
to established codes of portrait photography resting his hands on a standard studio prop. Also, all coastal men consistently wore only Omani ceremonial garbs seen here for their official portraits which, as we shall see, is not
always how they dressed or held their bodies in portraits meant for local circulation. But, carte de visites effectively worked as tokens of likeness because
they transformed people into commensurate objects
prompting recognition through its generic qualities fulfilling the expectation of viewers. Certainly, Barghash hoped that his letter and signed carte de
visite would compel Price to like him, to remember his social debt and therefore to lobby on
Barghash’s behalf in London. But, the photograph, in general, as also seen here, was not meant to create an effecting reciprocal bond or even a sense of deep
intercultural connectedness. Rather, such pictures
expressed a surface similitude. The photographic subject only gained a circumscribed visibility as a node in a series of thousands
of carte de visites circulating across the
globe during this period. Now, a few rare private portraits suggest that people of means,
and the colonial elite, also very much enjoyed simply playing with the exotic poses and fashions that they saw in pictures
of distant others. Converted into an image, bodily surfaces became tangible things
that could be tried on for one’s own performance
in front of the camera. Now, in a longer version of this paper, I also discuss women’s portraits which also raise important
issues of gender and power. But, now I only want to
briefly introduce you to these two photographs. The one on the right is
of a young Ali Al Busaidi who would become sultan
of Zanzibar in 1902. And the man on the left in the picture on the left is Mbarak
Hinawy who will become the governor of Mombasa in 1936. Mbarak shared the photo session with two other unidentified males, a toddler sitting on
the chair in the center who’s clearly not holding still, and another young man
who is similarly dressed and posed as Mbarak. These photographs present the young men as stylish and carefree dandies. (speaking in foreign language) Mbarak and Ali also are
leaning on their walking sticks standing in a jaunty contrapposto position and wearing pressed suits
imported from overseas. Ali is particularly confident
in his stylish posturing. His shirt collar is starched
to stiff perfection, and he puffs out his chest
with self-confidence. These portraits certainly express a playful self-projection. Of course, on one level,
they are signaling their familiarity and engagement with European cultures and fashions, but these are images that represent a theatrical playfulness. The sitters are embracing the artifice of the photographic
encounter temporarily playing and engaging clothes and postures that were in fact not
part of their daily life, although certainly part of their life. The Hinawy photograph
on the left was taken at one of the many Goan photo studios located in the busy commercial
heart of Mombasa Old Town during the 1920s and ’30s. Interestingly, the ragged
edges of the painted backdrop and its pulley system
are very much visible in the background of the image. This imbues the photograph, the portrait, with an idiosyncratic,
even provincial, character. Certainly, the studio’s worn props signals Mombasa’s distance from places
such as Bombay and London where standardized norms of portraiture were more strictly
followed, and studio props could be more easily replaced. But, the fact that the
image was not cropped also suggests that sitters
perhaps also desired a theatrical effect. That is while the tattered quality of the props were certainly not wanted, the inclusion of the
mechanics of the studio in the portrait further
enhances the artifice of the photographic encounter. The photographic portrait also gave locals a new medium through which to present the aestheticized body
making temporary acts of self-adornment and comportment
into permanent things. When elite men dressed
and posed for portraits that commemorated important
religious ceremonies., they presented themselves to the camera using locally established
codes of performance, holding their bodies
as if they were in fact in the space of the ceremony. For example, the portrait on the left likely is a wedding portrait
of an identified resident of Old Town Mombasa. The glass plate negative
of this photograph is still in a local family
collection in Mombasa, although the sitter’s
identity is no longer known. And it was likely taken in the 1910s when it was common for
grooms, but not brides, to visit a local studio to have their photograph taken
wearing their wedding costume, which for mens of means, men of means was Omani ceremonial garb. In such wedding portraits,
the subjects are often presented in throne and throned in a local crafted kiti cha enzi, or throne of agency and power. The same type of chair used to display the groom and the bride
for the viewing pleasure of wedding guests on the last
day of marriage celebrations. In the photographic, in
the photographic re-staging of such events, the body of the sitter is always frontally
oriented towards the camera, and the body takes on
an expansive position. Legs are spread and
feet are firmly planted on the ledge or floor. This posture was symbolically significant on the Swahili Coast. It indicates belonging
to the muungwana class, the free-born patricians
of East and Central Africa. In fact, the earliest photographs of noble Swahili men and
women show them enthroned, presenting their bodies
in this position of power. Elders also describe
the poise and composure of such patricians as
they sat stiffly erect for hours upon a kiti
cha enzi ever-vigilant and in command of the bodies of others. The ability to stage oneself enthroned wearing fine clothes
was itself a performance of autonomous personhood. Finally, the group portrait on the right, which is still in the
family’s personal collection in Mombasa, is said to represent. (throat clearing) Sorry. Sheik Mssellem and his
son who both are seated with legs astride and
hands on their knees. According to his great-grandson, Mssellem first moved to Zanzibar and then Mombasa from Oman in the 1880s to take part in the
burgeoning caravan trade. Family tradition says that it was taken, that is, this photograph, to commemorate an Eid holiday and that
all the people surrounding the seated men are enslaved
workers or bondsmen. Photography also gave new life to ancient practices of
objectifying the body. That is local practices
of objectifying the body, in which persons were
forced to act as ornaments as pleasing tableau vivant
of wealth and power. This is aptly demonstrated
in a group portrait, also once in the Busaidi family collection which shows the future sultan as a child accompanied by two men. The one standing stiffly behind him and staring directly into
the camera is likely one of his brothers or another
close family relative. He, and the young Ali,
are wearing Omani dress. Yet, the most extravagantly dressed person in the photograph is the man whose body is turned sideways. His gaze and attention
intently focused on Ali. His robe is fashioned from
a paisley patterned brocade an expensive and much-prized
import from South Asia. But, his rich clothes are not emblems of his own status or good taste. He is an attendant bonded
to the royal family indicated by his bare feet,
which are just visible here. He is an ornament, a visual cue to signal the sultanate and the
many bodies it commands. To control and amass such
ornately dressed bodies signaled taste and the
ability to consume commodities including in its human form. This man’s body, although at rest, is still fundamentally a laboring body. He’s doing aesthetic
work as a pictured body and as an armature for the presentation of exotic textiles in the picture. In fact, many African
economies imported textiles. In fact, many African
economies imported textiles where they acted as a form of currency in transcontinental systems of exchange. And from the African perspective, the value of textiles
was intimately linked to the value of people. Throughout the slave
trade, the African value of the enslaved was calculated as pieces of imported textiles. On the Swahili Coast, cloth was also one of the most important imports because it was an exchangeable
and highly mobile thing perfectly encapsulating
transoceanic connectivity and a mercantile plenitude. Swahilis also coveted imported textiles because they could be used to
create networks of dependence. Amassing people as clients,
enslaved or bonded persons through a body politic
in which the ability to amass and distribute imported cloth to vassals affected one’s ability to rule and command others. This photograph therefore speaks to this long tradition of using textiles in rituals of gifting,
but it is also my argument that it also enacts
its modern reinvention. The photograph functions
as an image and an object and as such, it allowed
locals to present people as things in new ways. It was also during this period that imported cloth and enslaved people became increasingly
affordable and people came to function as things of
conspicuous consumption. In fact, historians have recently argued that the trading boom of the second half of the 19th century when the Swahili Coast was absorbed into the North
Atlantic economic sphere led to the commodification of daily life in many profound ways. The unprecedented intensification
of the slave trade beginning in the late 1700s and the rise of plantation slavery on the Swahili Coast in the 1800s forever changed local social relations. The categorical equation
of enslaved humans with wealth and luxury very much informed local notions about the
nature of being cultured and what it means to be civilized. Even as enslaved Africans labored under extreme harsh conditions, outside the city on plantations, in the city, the display of the non-laboring aestheticized body became increasingly important. Their use value was not set in motion as labor on a plantation, but rather their bodies were recast
as an aesthetic armature for their owners’ performance of wealth. In fact, the display of
household bonded persons became the most important
sign of leisure luxury during this period since their owner did not depend on them as laborers, but literally their ornamented bodies and fashionably dressed bodies
were pleasing performances of wealth. There even existed a category of bonded or servant woman called the pombe meaning the ornament at once. Sumptuously dressed in the
most important expensive silks and cottons, they would
accompany patricians at various public
festivals and processions. The mass of their bedecked
and bejeweled bodies transforming the spaces of the city into a spectacle of wealth and luxury. A very unusual photograph,
which belonged once to the Busaidi family,
suggests that locals very much understood the
logic of objectifying people into photographic things. Such photographs although also likenesses, are primarily about
intensifying the effect of surface ornament. This photograph shows
six barefooted wapambe posing on the exterior
veranda of the sultan’s palace to whom then, and the palace, belonged. Each is sheathed in a
different kanga cloth, their bodies creating a play
of arabesque-like graphics along the length of the floriated cast-iron balustrade behind them. The photographic effect
further reduces their bodies to a play of surfaces. The women’s bodies and
subjectivities are displaced by the surface of the photograph further heightening
the material qualities, the form of the photographic screen. These young women had
objecthood imposed on them. And through the photograph,
they are forever giving material form to other people’s concepts of the beautiful, aesthetic and exotic. In conclusion then, on the Swahili Coast, photographs often worked
as things colliding with other things such
as bodies, commodities and heirlooms creating ornamented surfaces in people’s homes, for example, as we saw at the beginning. As we have seen, for early consumers, photographs were tantalizingly opaque endowed with a foreign materiality that made them perfect artifacts
of display and pleasure. In fact, the foreignness of
the photographic artifact was essential to local residents. Its distancing aesthetics
was what made it interesting. The Swahili Coast therefore offers a different genealogy for understanding the beginnings of popular
uses of photography in Africa. While scholars tend to
critique the reductive uses of photography, its ability
to obscure interiority Swahili Coast residents in
fact embraced this aspect. Ultimately, this also
suggests that we should not always assume that
photographic portraiture in Africa is always a
serious self-expression. Instead, photographic practice was often very much about play, the
superficial and exteriority. Certainly, on the Swahili Coast, photographs were folded
into very old practices, traditions that were primarily
about haptic pleasure, of beautiful objectd and the
politics of objectification. Further, while we often
want to see locality, or cultural difference
when we study photography in places often
categorized as non-Western, Swahili Coast surface effects were not a stylistic feature or formal aspect of the photographic image. Instead, it was a way of
doing things with photographs. The surface effect of
photography allowed locals to heighten a series of ancient practices, practices that are primarily about the aesthetic experience of objects, their textures and the sensual qualities of the exotic and far away. These surface effects in fact constituted the making of a new
aesthetic through which the difference between sentient beings and things became less clear. In a sense then, this
photograph reveals how photography was used to heighten the ornamental effects of bodies creating a series of striking surface equivalences between bodies, objects and ornament. When we look at African
photographic practices, and juxtapose them to photographs of Africans taken for European audiences. An example, again, that
I showed you earlier and again now here on the left. They do indeed trouble and challenge colonialist forms of knowing,
and there is, in fact, a significant cultural difference between these two photographs. But, both were also in many
ways about dehumanization. Thank you. (audience applauding) – Thank you so much for
this fascinating talk. It’s a small group, so please, questions. – [Male] So, thank you very much. (speaker speaking off-microphone) I’m trying to connect this
to my larger understanding that you know, to what would you say the significance of
this set of photographs for understanding the larger context. (speaker speaking off-microphone) – I mean, let me think. There’s many significances, and the one that I, of course, focused on is the rise of ways of objectifying human beings and the impact of industrialization and the complex ways. There are many layers of colonization and empire-building at work here. So, from the political perspectives, you have a huge increase of migration from Central Africa to the coast. And you have a huge increase of massive diasporic communities
shifting all over Zanzibar and other main port cities. And we usually can think of that in the celebratory way that you have this making of these complex
beautiful cosmopolitan cities which, in fact, you do. But, of course, the darker side of the rise of cosmopolitan and very globally connected
modern port cities is that it has to do also
with the objectification and the reduction of
peoples into commodities. And you have a rise of the circulation of enslaved Africans, right? So, that’s maybe something you would be more interested in, but in general, for the cultural history
of the Swahili Coast and the relationship to the Indian Ocean, what you see here is the intensification and transformation of very old networks of cultural connectivity
that spanned Central Africa all the way across the ports of India. – [Man] Thank you very much. I much enjoyed that. Question if I may. The question is about
interracial photography. Most of the cultures that you showed us, there was very little interracial comment. And I was wondering
whether you very liberally selected the photos that
focus on this particular theme or was that just an absence of those. (speaker speaking off-microphone) – When you mean interracial, you mean like Europeans and Arabs and Swahilis in the same photograph? – [Man] For example, or some information that would be found in the Old Town. – There are actually, luckily for you. I brought images that I did not fit into my talk where you do see that. So, these are, by the way, these are the kind of photographs that you see later in Laura Fair’s work connects more to this. So, you have a use of
photography, you know, by everyday middle-class, you know, as a pastime leisure activity. It becomes very common. I just want to emphasize that. It wasn’t so elite by this period. But, you have during the early period, interesting photographs which I would say are very, maybe not interracial, but intercultural performances. For example here you have
European missionary women dressing up as Swahili elites. And you can see they
feel very uncomfortable in those clothes, right? Sort of there’s this
cross-cultural masquerading not only happening on
the Omani or Zanzibari that is dressing like Europeans, but the other way around. And then, there’s more
examples of that here. And then, you also have
funny, interesting, strange photographs like this one. You know, these very staged, you know, almost to us absurdist meetings between Tippu Tipp, who
was a famous slaver, but Zanzibari patrician as well, who plays a very complicated role in the European context. Europeans were weirdly
fascinated with him, and always wanted to be
photographed with him. And why that is, of course, why that is is actually intriguing, but of course, there’s no written
remains of that, you know. But, these, I have to say, these, and of course, there are countless of official formal portraits where you see European
colonial officials posing with the Oman, with the you
know, with the Busaidi elite. Yeah. And there are very rare photographs which I did not bring of Europeans with their local wives, yeah, yeah. (laughing) – [Woman] So, thank you very much for really an exciting talk. – I don’t know that we need that, do we? – [Female] I don’t know,
I think we need it. (laughing) – Do we need it?
– Yeah. – [Woman] Okay, so thank you very much for that really wonderful talk. And I’m really excited
about your new project. It’s really wonderful. So, I guess, a couple of, well, a comment and then a couple of questions. So, I really liked the
idea that you bring up about photos in performativity. And really looking at these as sort of aspirational documents
of self-presentation. And you’ve got, I was
looking at where you got some of these. Some of them I was familiar with from the Zanzibar archives, but none of the other ones was I. So, I’m kind of curious
if you have any records from the studios themselves about say the number of prints? So, I’m thinking about
the wapambe in particular. Did they then get copies? I mean, you might not know this, but did they get copies of this and then they could say,
“You know, look at me,” at a time when nobody else
has a photo of themself? “I’ve got this photo
of me all dressed up,” and what does that say about them, and then how do they use
that if you have that? And the other thing that I
found really fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like that in terms of your, the
displays from Mombasa and the ways in which
photography was integrated into these really elaborate displays of porcelain and all these other things. So, I’m just curious
if you could say maybe a little bit more about
variations in aesthetics between Zanzibar and
Mombasa and elsewhere, you know, along the Swahili Coast? – Mm-hm, thank you. Thank you for those
comments and questions. So, of course, I want
to say early, you know, very clearly that especially
for this early period, which I’m, you know, very
dedicated to, you know, writing about seriously,
there is very little written remains or documentation. Even the studios, the Goan studios, you know, they didn’t keep archives, especially for this early period. But, it is, you know, clear from if you look at the archives
from the European side that what happened often. So, there was this interestingly enough, an early partnership between the Zanzibari and Mombasan studios,
the South Asian studios. They had a partnership with
German postcard producers. And so, one of the other
interesting histories is the early connection between Zanzibar and other North Atlantic port cities, that is Hamburg, for example,
a northern German city. And there was very
longstanding connection, a trade connection. They were privileged trading partners. But, interestingly, the
port, the photographers had special agreements
with German factories that mass-produced
thousands, actually millions of photographs. And so, they would send these photographs from Zanzibar, you know, or make even. You could even, of course,
send orders via telegrams because Zanzibar had
telegrams in the 1880s. Send your orders and
then within, you know, a few weeks via steamships,
your photographs would come that you could sell locally to European tourists, right? So, what’s interesting is that what has been suggested by other scholars and seems to be the case, what sometimes these studios did, which was, of course, problematic is they would take photographs that were commissioned
by elite local families and then turn them into postcards to be circulated to Europe. So, there was an interesting, you know, sort of way that the
locals lost control already early on of their photographs, right? And what was your? That was a question, right? That answered one question.
– Yeah. Just about aesthetics–
– Oh, yeah, so. So, you know, interestingly enough, as Rogaia knows, I came to photography actually through architecture. And oops, my early work
on the interior design of arch, there is it. Thank you. Was actually being
fascinated by these interiors as a, you know, talking local
aesthetic architectural design and ornament. And at one point, I just, you know, of course I was using
historical photographs to get to the early
history of architecture, but then I had this,
you know, eureka moment. I was like, “Oh, wait, there’s photographs “in these photographs of interiors.” Right, so yes, I spent actually. I, you know, I’ve written
my book in chapters and other edited volumes and in articles a great deal about the
different display aesthetics at work in these different interiors. Of course, my work is
in some ways speculative because we don’t have written documents from this time period. But, for example, there’s
a striking difference between aesthetics of
the late-19th century of interior spaces that you see in Lamu, which is much more remote. You know, much harder to get
to from Zanzibar or Mombasa. Zanzibar and Mombasa are connected to main steam, you
know, to steamship lines that directly connect them to Bombay and even Hamburg. You can go directly from
Zanzibar to Hamburg in the 1880s. You know, so they’re
very intensely connected. And they’re, you see that, you know, the display aesthetics
and the display practices are much more sort of British raj. You know, much more inflected
by even Goan’s practices. And more remote places
like Lamu, you know, have a much more distinctly, you know, sort of Lamuan way of doing things. You know, here the
photographs, as I mentioned in passing, are much
more sort of just like part of the sea of surfaces. You know, and they’re not even people that they know. These were imported things that they put on their walls as part of a display, making a skin of imports on the walls. And in Zanzibari interiors,
their functioning is portraits. These are people that they
knew in these portraits. Yep? – [Female] Thank you so much. Thank you so much. – How your own work is
pushing the boundaries between the common truth and critiques about photography as representation. You’re absolutely right. I have read the numerous accounts of critique of many
different style in the case of the Nuba and Burke, Edmund Burke. Not the poet, the photographer (chuckling) of history and history of representation of Native Americans Navajo. So, you are absolutely right. My fascination with your expose of the social and political
life of a photograph is really representative of
what this gathering is about which is a circularity of the object. The object as a medium for aesthetics and aestheticization bodies. My just very last, you know, again an observation from my own trip to Zanzibar and Angouga. In a marketplace, I was struck when you said the fairest studio
photograph was run by a Goan. As a matter of fact, there was, I’m not sure the person was a Goan in that marketplace, but a South Asian was selling very old
photographs, framed photographs and he wanted to exact
an exorbitant amount. – Yes, and still–
– So, I just had to– – [Prita] Studios in Zanzibar,
they now amass their. Yeah, they’re very smart. – So, I just window shopped basically. But, with respect to the
wapambe, to what extent? I was struck by the
fantasm of that photograph where these concubines of the sultans, to what extent the fact
that their description as ornamentive–
– The ornamented ones? – Ornamented ones reflected so much of that master-slave relationship and the spectacle of that. Is is about the owners, the
masters’ wealth more than– – Well, yeah, definitely.
– The presentation. – Certainly, on the surface level, that is really what it, of course, they were, you know, they were not. You know, they were not officially, well, they never were free women, right? Not entirely free. I mean, although wapambe
and surias, or concubines, were a different category of women. Although, it suggests, you know, of course hard to really understand how it worked in that early period. But, there is suggestion that they moved between those categories. Now, of course, in my
talk, I really emphasized, you know, the way that their subjectivity, their sense of self was,
of course, oppressed in these space and certainly
in these photographs, right? But, I do want to temper that. I mean, of course, and other scholars have written about this that of course one of the most important things is to try to understand the
agency however circumscribed, however in horrific
conditions their life existed. Of course, there is, they
were still, you know, very complex people with personhoods, with inner lives and you know, and scholars have written about that trying to understand, you know, what life must have
been like as a wapambe. And the kind of ways they negotiated however restricted, you
know, their life was to make a sense of self for themself. You know, of course,
very interesting stories of, you know, women that once were part of the harem becoming powerful women in their own right, you know? So, I just want to emphasize that a focus on photography will emphasize the way the photographs
turns them into objects. But, as lived human beings,
as historical figures, they have a very complex
life and agency too. It’s just that I don’t want to easily read that agency into the photograph. I just want to emphasize that. Thank you. – Thanks for a great talk.
– Thanks. – Can you speak a little bit about to what extent photography is a European medium, or is it more of a neutral technology
that easily transports to other locations? You showed how it was industrialized to a very rapid extent. Is there an orientalizing conversation on that here as well of the Africans talking back to exoticize
the reaches of Africans or are they?
– Yeah, so the history of how photography is
talked about by historians of Africa or South Asia or Global South is very complicated and very interesting. – Of course, in South Asia, it gets picked up almost
immediately as well. – Yeah, even earlier than in Zanzibar. Yeah, yeah, many like Christopher Pinney has written very important books on this. You know, the complex way photography is connected in India to, you know, preexisting forms of
pictorial representation like portraiture and
illuminated manuscripts. Interestingly enough,
on the Swahili Coast, it does not connect to
a preexisting history of picture-making or
picturing people, right? So, that’s what’s so
distinctly sort of complex about the Swahili Coast case. In West Africa, it also
gets instantly appropriated, but West Africa also has
a history of portraiture. You know, so it’s interesting
on the Swahili Coast that it doesn’t exist. So, yes, most scholars of
non-Western photography have been at great pains to emphasize that it is not quote/unquote
“a European thing”, right? But, that in fact it has, you know, it’s a medium, a thing that circulates and can be turned into
anything you want, right? You know, in a very easy way. And that you know, to even
to write about history of photography in a sort of simple way of you know, the global is localized is also too simplistic because it suggests a sort of binary relationship. Yeah, so I could speak
at length about that. I mean, there’s a whole
historiography, a huge. I mean, I teach a graduate
seminar just on that, you know. So, most people would say no. That’s a simplistic
understanding, that it’s you know. Of course, an obvious way as a technology, it’s European. I mean, there should be
no anxiety about that. You know, of course, it’s you know, but of course, Europeans are
fighting amongst themselves to this day who really
invented photography whether it was the French. Whether it was the
British and most recently somebody argued that is
was actually somebody in Latin America. You know, so the anxiety who did it first is in fact kind of uninteresting to me. So, what was the other question? – [Man] Is there an
inherently orientalizing gaze built into the technology
as many people would say? Whether it’s for Renaissance perspective or the objectification of human body– – I mean, I wouldn’t say inherently because nothing is ever
inherent to me to bodies or. But, yeah, I mean, of course, you know, there’s something, you
know, incredibly seductive and tantalizing and weirdly familiar about portraiture, you know. To tell you the truth, it’s much easier for me to teach this
material to my students than architecture because they, even when I tell them,
“You actually don’t know “what’s going on this image?” They’re instantly connected to the bodies, to the gaze of the women, right? And they feel a sense of even, “Oh, I know “what that pose means. “I know what that look means.” Right, there’s a sense
that people connect. So, it’s easy to orientalize, yes, ’cause this is exotic. It’s similar, but dissimilar. I mean, that’s why
photography’s also so popular as a form of exhibition, you know? People love going to
photography, myself included, and I curate exhibitions on photography. So, you know, hypocrisy is
one of my best qualities. But, of course, you
know they’re seductive. They invite you to make all kinds of sort of generalizations, you know, about the people in the photograph. So, I want to resist
that though in my project and to focus on the surface of it. (speaker speaking off-microphone) – So, I was wondering
whether you can, you know, say something about what
the sort of evidences are for perhaps the rising,
contemporary rising of suggestions about literature where some of your ideas would be perhaps tested. (speaker speaking off-microphone) – Of course, that’s, yeah. (speaker speaking off-microphone) – Yes, absolutely. Of course, you know, it’s especially for this early history,
it’s almost my desire to find, you know written documentation. But, of course, that’s very difficult. There is a memoir
written by Princess Salme who was the daughter, okay,
you all know who that is. You know, so I don’t have to explain. But, you know, she actually, you know, if you read her memoirs. You know, of course, it’s
fascinating for many reasons, for geopolitical reasons, but she mentions in passing also, not
in passing quite often like life in the palace
and what was privileged in terms of imports or
what made a tasteful home. And you know, she does write evocatively about, you know, this you know desire to have masses of you know, things. To have, for example, entire collections of hundreds of carpets, entire collections of glass, you know, in
the niches of the palace. And so, this you know, this desire to have exotic things
and also the way women were dressed. Oh, that’s a beautiful pass, horrifying, well, complicated and sad passage about what happens to
women mainland Africans when they’re, you know, enter the palace as enslaved women and how they’re forced to dress in these exotic clothes. And how they’re given names, you know, that sound sort of, you
know, almost as objects like Rose, you know, Beautiful Coconut or, you know, like absurd, you know. That their names are also
object names oftentimes. You know, so there’s some of that as well. In terms of, you know,
there are of course. I mean, there are important scholars, novelists of Zanzibar like
Gurnah’s work, for example. But, that’s of course
later, although he writes very powerfully about sort
of the conflicted politics of identity in Zanzibar. But, and of course, there’s
European travel logs which talk about, you know,
in quite extensive detail how bizarre they found it that they would be invited for, you
know, coffee and dates into a rich member, elite or
even rich merchant’s house, and then shown, you know, huge collections of photographs of
British kings and queens. You know, so there are remnants written, remnants of that. Does that get? Yeah. And yes, of course, the Indian Ocean. I mean, duh, the Indian Ocean of course is porous and you know,
especially has always been connected to the Atlantic Ocean and it would be absolutely
fascinating to, you know, to do a comparative project in terms of you know, processes of objectification and histories of enslavement
that are similar, but of course hugely different. You know, I mean many people have written very, very strenuously
about the huge differences of the slave trade and notions of slavery between the Atlantic world
and the Indian Ocean world. Of course, there are similarities, but there are key differences that need to be emphasized, yeah. (speaker speaking off-microphone) – [Man] But, you also see
what you call at the end, their inclusion of playful kind of trophy. Kind of a formal Liddens kind of approach to you know, playfulness
as a particular way of negotiating (speaking off-microphone). And I’m wondering if
those two aspects you see as concurrent or are they
in some ways connected in the playfulness or do you see those as kind separate pursued
by different sections along the coastlines? So, there’s a marked difference– – Mm-hm. I mean, that’s a very important question. I would have to spend
some time really thinking about that to give you a
really thoughtful answer, but I would say my first response is that I would want to emphasize that especially for this early period, I wouldn’t actually
call this orientalizing. I think it’s our anachronistic
or reading these images now, we see then that way, you know? I just want to emphasize. Although, of course, you
know I think there are complex ways, especially
with these cartes de visites, that certainly Swahili Coast elites were trying to fulfill the expectations of their audiences which sometimes were of course European audiences. But, sometimes what we find as disconcertedly self-orientalizing is actually our discomfort
with the playful ability to do whatever you want, quite frankly. I just, that’s my
preliminary answer to that. But, it’s an important question. But, did you have another question or another point? – [Man] Playful, that is kind of a way of negotiating from the
point of view of colonizers. – Oh, yeah. – [Man] Because in some
ways, you see in the pictures of Maharaja in India. And they’re actively participating in the kind of discourse of ornamentalism. – Yeah, yeah.
– Which is part of the British Empire–
– Yeah. – You know, and of course, it’s always, when they’re thinking
like, “Oh, I’m self,” you know, “I’m ornamenting myself to fit. “Maybe I’m ornamenting ’cause
I think it’s fashionable.” You know, so it’s complicated to read. But, just in general, you know, and you know, my talk today didn’t really go into the depths of you
know, the truly colonized. You know, the working poor. I know, of course,
appropriate photography, especially in the ’20s,
’30s and ’40s onward also, but I also want to emphasize, and Laura Fair’s work has been on this. You know that you know
the category of slaved versus enslaved was very porous and there were even, you know, some people maybe would we call unfree, owned other people too. And there was a very
negotiative, very complex way that you know, forms of bondage worked on the Swahili Coast. And that is not, you
know, photography doesn’t really allow you to talk about that, but like cultural history does
which Laura Fair has done. Yeah. (speaker speaking off-microphone) (laughing) – Thank you very kindly. Thank you very much
for a fascinating talk. I have an anecdote and
a question actually. You mentioned that photographs,
private photographs, of families would end
up being commercialized. This actually happened to my grandmother. – Really.
– She had a portrait taken in Calcutta in about 1930s or something. A few years later, she and
her husband were in London and she saw herself passing by on the bus. (laughing) – [Prita] Wow, that’s a great anecdote. – My grandfather apparently
returned to Calcutta with a rifle. (laughing) Old family story. But, my question has to do
with one of the pictures which struck me as familiar. The seated portrait of
the man in full regalia. You mentioned one was at a wedding. The form, yes, that’s the one. The form is very much like the Chinese portraiture of–
– Oh, yes. – Isn’t it exactly like that? – [Prita] I know exactly
which one you mean, yeah. – Exactly, and I was wondering. I mean, how do we, or how do you view such parallels in form here? Also, the Chinese paintings and here we have this photography. Are we talking about some kind of secularistic cultural transmission or are we talking about the
very form of portraiture ultimately taking these
kinds of displays on? – [Prita] I mean, of course,
any sort of assessments like that are rather speculative. Now, the Chinese would
love that story, of course, because it Chinese are a very
powerful interest right now on the Swahili Coast. And they’re in fact doing major
cultural heritage projects, always emphasizing the long history of connectivity between
China and Zanzibar. I mean, between China
and the Swahili Coast and they are. But, I mean I do think that, you know. You know, I want to emphasize
like the local significance of this pose. Of course, you know,
posing with your legs, you know, apart and you
know, the seat of power taking up as much space as possible is you could say. I mean, not that I would
ever say, write this, but the universal way of, you know, emphasizing your power,
you’re seated, you know. You are, you know, in
full control of your body. You’re taking up space. Your clothes are taking up space. You know, and you know local people talk about this as the seat, you know, a ways of sitting that only
free people were allowed to do, you know, during an early period. But, of course, you know,
there are in some ways, you know, people enthroned oftentimes take these positions, you know? So, there are, but you know, I would say it’s probably
also with the fact the way the body works a little bit. You know, sort of general things about how the body takes
up power, you know? But, I would definitely not connect it like to being portraiture, you know, yeah. – Thank you.
– Thank you. – [Man] A man spread. – Yes, alright, it’s a man spreading which is a problem in public
transportation in the US. (laughing) Oh, wait, there’s one
thing I wanted to say just briefly about your anecdote. Sorry, it’s very important
to note when you show. So, there’s been actually
some very tiny obscure exhibitions and catalogs produced about the portraits
from people of Zanzibar and Mombasa by Italians, okay. And they’ve actually
collected a lot of them, and want huge prices for them. And when you show these
photo, these catalog books to people in Mombasa,
they’re absolutely enraged that these photographs
are now being displayed this way in public of their grandmothers. And that they’re being sold,
being held hostage basically, by Italian collectors. Yeah, so that’s. – [Woman] So, following on with that. I actually had a question in regards to whether you do see actually
the reverse happening? So, whether technology itself is impacting the poses people might
have in their daily life, especially as power and how it comes to be depicted in such a definite medium as a photograph, and how
widespread it becomes. And whether that actually plays a role in impacting how present
themselves in daily life? And also, why do you
think that this medium, which you said, as you
said, like it doesn’t, there isn’t really a
history of portraiture on the Swahili Coast. Why was it so widely accepted
and very easily accepted first by the elite and then
spread onto various factors, or various sectors of society? – Mm-hm, those are two
very good questions. So, to answer your first. I mean, it think that would
be a fabulous way, you know, to think about that a little bit longer. How, of course, portraiture maybe impacts local performances, photography. One obvious way I think of, and maybe you can also say more about that is that now on the Swahili Coast already,
but the earliest photograph I’ve seen of this was from the 1940s. You know, the display of
yourself, the bride and groom, on a stage for being
photographed is hugely important. I mean, if you sit for
hours on a stage enthroned to the stage and have your, you know, multiple photographs taken of yourself with your guests watching. And now, it’s a cameraman or women filming you sitting there. So, I think that, not there
wasn’t a history before this of sitting, you know, enthroned
for your guests, right. I would probably think it
would be very interesting to think about how, you
know, that the posing for the camera, in fact,
impacts the performances of brides and grooms at weddings. So, there will be a reverse there too. And, you know, just sort
of self-consciousness about posing for the gaze, how
you’re presenting yourself. I think it’s something you, you know, one could definitely think about more. And certainly in the, for
the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, where people, you know, when
you ask people, women, now about their memories of
when they were young girls, you know, it was a pastime, a pleasure and a fun activity you would
do with your girlfriends to, you know, sit super-stylishly for a studio portrait of yourself. So, this idea of how you look, you know, in general, but how it’s
very pervasive, you know, in looking at yourself. You know, so there’s a whole different. Interesting, you can really develop really sort of a different
aspect of portraiture, photography there. What was your other question? (speaker speaking off-microphone) You know this is, you know, that these are kind of questions you could never have a good answer for ’cause you know people are just fabulously
mysteriously mercurial and appropriate things all of the time. You know, I think it’s
actually our problem that we think that there
should be some resistance to portraiture because
there wasn’t one before. That seems to be this
instant appropriation of it. Of course, I tried to
make a point of early, part of it that as objects,
as exotic commodities, they were inserted into an
early display tradition, right. As things, they were not surprising. As portraiture, they were more surprising. Thank you. – [Man] So, we’ll take two more questions. One. – [Female] Thank you very much for talk. I was thinking about two things. The concept of space and
the concept of exhibition. So, looking at the way photographs are, particularly what you say. What is the value of these photographs down to the sizing,
you know where they are in the sense how do you present them? Are they an exhibition? Is there a museum where
photographs get placed so that they acquire some sort of a value? Or what kind of value do photographs have when they’re in family albums instead of being placed in institution? So, the question of institutionalizing. – Absolutely.
– Question of exhibition. Who gets to exhibit? Where are these photographs exhibited? And the question of secularity
which is interesting because in Goa, there’s
a house, Braganza House, which is now turned into a museum where you can go, pay
a certain amount of fee and look at photographs. And there are some of these photographs. Not exactly these, but the photographs that show that kind of connection. So, when you brought
up the question of Goa, Goan running studios, it immediately kind of connected to the house
that is there in Goa which is now exhibiting
these kind of photographs and talking about these connections across the continent.
– So, yeah. – [Woman] So, if you
could comment on that. – I mean, that’s a huge
issue and question. You know, the many
post-histories of photographs. You know, of course,
photographs, you know, especially if you have the negative. You know, oftentimes
collectors actually collect the negative, you know, from like you know Muldereg Studios in Mombasa,
they took the negatives and then they produce endless
versions of it, right. ‘Cause what’s even more
tantalizing or complex about photography is that
if you have the negative, you can endlessly reproduce it, right, in any shape or form you want. And yes, there’s, you know,
there’s much can be said and has been said about, you know, the complex social lives
a photograph will have in a personal family album. And some of the photographs
that I worked on for my book project are
from personal family albums and a very different meaning
and significance there than the thousands if not millions of photographs that exist, you know, in the colonial archives in Britain, in Germany, in France,
in the United States. You know, the more,
there’s actually millions of them, right? And so, they’re mostly nameless things that were collected, that’s types right? So, there’s, you know, somebody could say these photographs say
more about coloniality of power and empire than they say about the people in
the photographs, right? But, it’s interesting
if you would then insert that same photograph, a nameless person that’s been reduced to an ethnic type and you would find the
ancestor of that person and they can tell you a
life story about that. And then, take the photograph back and put it in a family archive. Then, the meaning of that photograph instantly changes, you know? And then, in terms of exhibitions. The politics of exhibitions
about photography from Africa is hugely
political and contested. People do not want these photographs. They’re enraged that
their family photographs, especially when they recognize people in those photographs. They do not want them to be put into books or exhibitions. And in fact, I can’t use
most of the photographs from family collections in my book, you know, because I told them I won’t because that would be
hugely problematic, right? But, there are then
photographs that are collected and then transformed into art objects. This especially happened
with West Africa photography, that is Seydou Keita and
Malick Sidibe superstars of West African photography now. But, these were once
small family photographs that have now been turned into these huge black and white beautiful gelatin prints that are now collected in MOMA and The Met as great works of art. I’m not saying they’re not,
but they’ve been reinvented. You know, this is constantly
happening in photographs. Thank you. (speaker drowned out by background noise) – [Female] Do you see any photographs where migrants were
coming from different– – Yes.
– Specifically posing for photographs to send home, and take a certain picture of themselves and what this would mean, this idea of you know, going away
and then connecting back to the society–
– Yeah. I mean, it’s not a focus of my work ’cause I’m focusing so
much on the port cities. But, other people have
actually have written really important books
on the way photography works as a fragment and
an agent of diaspora, especially how you keep
family connections. You know, by sending portraits of yourself over the years to your family ’cause you actually don’t have
the wealth to visit anymore ’cause you’re a poor migrant laborer. So, the scholars have, not so much in the Indian Ocean context, but in the Atlantic Ocean
context people have written. I do know in terms of the context of popular studio photography in Mombasa, there’s huge, not a huge, but there are definitely
examples of up country, mainland Africans visiting
the well-known studios. Parekh Studios was
super famous in Mombasa. And that leaving with this artifact of you know, Swahili Coast
cosmopolitanism right? And dressing up. Another story is the studios
would give you clothes if you wanted to dress up in temporarily. Thank you. – [Woman] Thank you so much. (audience applauding)

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