VIAD is proud to host the fourth iteration of Autograph ABP’s internationally touring Black Chronicles programme, marking the first time that a wider selection of works from the series – and newly added imagery – are exhibited on the African continent.
Black Chronicles IV presents an extraordinary collection of photographic studio portraits, a majority produced in collaboration with the Hulton Archive from original nineteenth-century glass plates as large-scale modern silver gelatin prints. Buried in the Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company (LSC) collection for more than 125 years, these negatives were re-discovered by Autograph ABP in 2014 as part of their critically acclaimed curatorial archive research programme, The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles (2013 – present). Selected LSC portraits, excerpted from a larger body of work, are shown alongside a display of rare albumen cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards from Autograph ABP’s own archive, as well as digital reproductions from the National Portrait Gallery, London and private collections.
Offering a unique opportunity to encounter a diverse range of ‘black presences’ – African, Caribbean and South Asian – through the prism of nineteenth-century studio photography in Victorian Britain, the exhibition foregrounds the narratives of both ordinary and prominent black figures – performers, dignitaries, politicians, servicemen and women, missionaries, students, businessmen as well as international royalty.
Together with W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Paris Albums 1900 – also seen for the first time in South Africa – these exquisitely rendered images are highly relevant to contemporary cultural history and politics of representation, as they reveal alternative perspectives to modes of portrayal prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and evidence cultural diversity, agency and advocacy.
A highlight of the exhibition is the sound and image-based installation, The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined. The installation, presented in a discrete gallery space, comprises 18 photographic portraits of the original members of the African Choir, who toured Britain in 1891. The portraits are accompanied by an evocative five-channel soundtrack of songs composed and arranged by South African artists Thuthuka Sibisi and Philip Miller as a creative re-imagining of the choirs’ 19th-century concert programme.
Enabling different ways of ‘seeing’ individuals often marginalised within Victorian Britain, colonial Southern Africa and the American South, Black Chronicles IV contributes toward an ongoing process of redressing the persistent absences of black narratives within the historical record.
The exhibition’s 19th century photographs are presented in dialogue with Effnik, a contemporary photograph by Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. 1963), which was commissioned by Autograph ABP in 1996.
THE AFRICAN CHOIR 1891 RE-IMAGINED
Presented in a discrete gallery space, the sound and image-based installation, The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined, comprises 18 photographic portraits of the original members of the African Choir, who toured Britain in 1891. The portraits are accompanied by an evocative five-channel soundtrack of songs composed and arranged by South African artists Thuthuka Sibisi and Philip Miller as a creative re-imagining of the choirs’ 19th-century concert programme.
The African Choir was drawn from various mission stations and church choirs in the Eastern Cape, including graduates from Lovedale College. The original sixteen-member ensemble included seven men and seven women, plus two children. They toured Britain and the USA between 1891-93, ostensibly raising funds to build a technical college.
Choir members such as Charlotte Maxeke (née Manye), her sister Katie Makanya and Paul Xiniwe later became leading social activists and reformers in South Africa. They performed to great acclaim to large audiences in England, and before Queen Victoria in the summer of 1891. Their repertoire was divided into two halves: one comprised Christian hymns sung in English together with popular operatic arias and choruses; the other consisted of traditional African hymns, and some of the first originally composed hymns by South African composers: John Bokwe and the Rev. Tiyo Soga.
The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined connects the composers, Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi (Tshisa Boys Productions) with the curatorial research led by Renée Mussai as part of Autograph ABP’s on-going Black Chronicles/The Missing Chapter archive research programme.
Together they form an artistic representation that humanises and gives voice to an important episode in both British and South African history, intimately linked to wider politics of empire, expansion and imperial narratives, and long unknown by contemporary audiences.