Spotlight: The Photographic Collective

23.10.2020

The Photographic collective is a new initiative that was launched in June 2020 and is already making waves, most recently at the 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair in London. Can you tell us a bit about the collective’s mission statement and how important it was for you to be exhibiting at 1-54.

The Photographic Collective was created during lockdown. The original impulse was to give more visibility to photographers and artists based in Africa and especially the ones who are not currently represented by a gallery. The Photographic Collective aspires to become a source of information and knowledge alternative to and complementing mainstream and established institutions. My desire as the founder of the Collective was to launch an online platform that would feature work challenging traditional representations of the continent, accessible to anyone with a good Internet connection. The exhibition at 1-54, co-curated by Laura El-Tantawy and myself, was our first public event off-line. It represented an incredible opportunity to promote the work of our artists and share the mission of the Collective with visitors. The Photographic Collective aims to lead collaborative projects with artists, and I hope that our exhibition at 1-54 is the first of many.

Many if not all of the collective’s artists do not have mainstream gallery representation. Is it important that you provide a platform that remains independent of the gallery network and also committed to not for profit status, tell us a bit about what this means to you as a group?

It is a bit early to have a clear idea of how the platform will evolve. Still, The Photographic Collective should encourage collaboration, between artists but also with academics, curators, writers and gallerists. The Collective is composed of an advisory board of artists and photographers living and working in Africa. Together, we exchange ideas, discuss the work of artists and decide whose photographs should be featured on the platform. Each month, we present the work of two nominated artists on our Instagram page and our website. We collaborate with cultural partners based on the continent to help us meet our objectives and help the platform grow, and we offer guidance to the artists represented. It is important that the Photographic Collective remains not-for-profit and that each member of the board and nominated artist remains as independent as possible. They should have the freedom to say what they want to say and work with who they want to work.

You provide a vital platform for artist and photographers in and from Africa, can you tell us about your selection process and maybe a bit more about some of the creatives you represent?

As mentioned earlier, the selection process is subject to a vote by the members of the advisory board: Laura El-Tantawy (Egypt), Jabulani Dhlamini (South Africa), Lebohang Kganye (South Africa), Ala Kheir (Sudan), Laila Hida (Morocco), Michelle Loukidis (South Africa), Màrio Macilau (Mozambique), Uche Okpa-Iroha (Nigeria), Nii Obodai Provençal (Ghana and Mozambique), Léonard Pongo (Congo) and Rijasolo (Madagascar). Each member can submit a couple of names of artists who they think should be represented by the platform before our online meetings. Our goal is to guarantee the high quality of the work presented on the platform. Together we discuss the work of the artists suggested, and once the sessions end, we vote anonymously. Of course, the selection process is sometimes difficult. There are so many talented artists and photographers active on the continent. Restricting the number of our nominated artists by two each month allow us to manage expectations. Members of the boards are all photographers and artists active in their respective countries through their work but also teaching and mentoring. They have privileged access to the local cultural scenes. Their network and expertise are what put The Photographic Collective off the grounds. Thanks to them, we have been able to present the work of fantastic artists, including so far Ibrahim Ahmed (Egypt), Nonzuzo Gxekwa (South Africa), Maheder Haileselassie (Ethiopia), Pippa Hetherington (South Africa), Amina Kadous (Egypt), Lorraine Kalassa (South Africa) and Godelive Kasangati Kabena (Congo). The work of these artists stresses the incredible variety of lens-based and artistic practices across the continent.

As well as showcasing creative individuals visual practice, you also promote discussion and academic research with a very committed position to open discourse and dialogue, can you tell us how people can get involved with the conversation?

As we all know, COVID-19 has limited social interactions to an incredible extent. We started these online conversations between artists to highlight under-covered research topics in African-based photography and visual arts but also as a mean to connect practitioners across Africa and create a network of solidarity during these difficult times. The conversations happen on Zoom, are recorded and then transcribed. I try to pair artists who share similar interests in their photographic practice but based in different parts of the continent, if possible. So far, we published two conversations on The Photographic Collective website, between Jabulani Dhlamini (member of the advisory board) and Maheder Haileselassie (nominated artist) and between Laura El-Tantawy (member of the advisory board) and Ibrahim Ahmed (nominated artist). We will soon publish a conversation between Nii Obodai and Pippa Hetherington. In addition to giving visibility to emerging artists and connecting practitioners based in different parts of the continent, the content put together by The Photographic Collective is intended for students, curators, academics and photographers interested in the medium of photography in an African context.

The collective has very rightly put down a marker in regard to celebrating contemporary art of African origin – with the pandemic putting increased pressure on the creative industries and its ability to exhibit and present art, can you share with us how you intend to maintain such a strong visual presence beyond web based portals and physical exhibition and let us into a sneak update on any new projects.

This is a very good question for which I don’t have an answer yet. The Photographic Collective is on a learning curve. I am currently looking for funding opportunities, grants and sponsorships to help sustain the platform in the future. Being not-for-profit can be stressful, especially in these current times. Despite the pressure on the creative industries, I am confident in the ability of The Photographic Collective to continue to thrive and grow. The platform was created during lockdown despite the challenges, frustrations and difficulties encountered by cultural practitioners. As a team, we achieved so much these last few months, and 1-54 gave us a great push. I am so grateful to everyone involved. Regarding new projects… well, keep an eye on LagosPhoto Festival.

Maheder Haileselassie, Untitled, from the series ‘Between yesterday and tomorrow’, 2018
© Maheder Haileselassie

Léonard Pongo, Fruit Study 2, 2020
© Léonard Pongo

Amina Kadous, A portrait of my grandmother taken in 1961 in her first year of marriage, from the series ‘Their flowers shall always remain’, 2020
© Amina Kadous