Houston’s FotoFest Biennial 2020 will focus on artists of Africa and its diaspora

FotoFest Biennial 2020

Mark Sealy MBE. Photo by Steve Pyke.

The FotoFest Biennial 2020
AFRICAN COSMOLOGIES: Photography, Time, and the Other

March 8-April 19, 2020
Citywide, Houston, TX

FotoFest announces the dates and curatorial focus for its Eighteenth International Biennial, the FotoFest Biennial 2020. Taking place next year, March 8–April 19, 2020, the central program of the citywide festival, AFRICAN COSMOLOGIES—Photography, Time, and the Other, will focus on artists of Africa and its diaspora. The FotoFest Biennial 2020 marks the first time in its 37-year history that the Biennial’s central exhibition will focus on artists of African origin.

FotoFest Biennial 2020 is curated by Mark Sealy MBE, a British curator, writer, and cultural producer with a special interest in the relationship between photography and social change, identity politics and human rights. Since 1991, Sealy has been the director of Autograph ABP, the London-based non-profit photographic arts agency dedicated to highlighting issues of identity, representation, human rights and social justice. Formerly known as the Association of Black Photographers, Autograph ABP is an advocate of human rights worldwide, hosting exhibitions on the subjects of Pan African politics, and the photographic legacy of lynching in the United States, among others.

Steven Evans, FotoFest Executive Director, notes “FotoFest has a long history of international engagement, and we are especially excited to be working with photographers from Africa and its diaspora in 2020.”

“Mark Sealy’s reputation and legacy of thoughtful exhibitions, programs, lectures and books is remarkable, and has established him as a leading expert and advocate for Black and African photography,” says Evans, continuing, “His meticulous engagement with important issues within society and culture aligns closely with FotoFest’s mission and ideals.”

With decades of work against a colonized view of photography in Africa, Sealy explains, “Photographic images can only be understood within the contexts of the cultures to which they relate. Only once we understand the cultures within which an image is made, and read, can we begin to lock down any real meaning. …The establishment of a canonical reading of photography is in no way universal or democratic.”

“Photography for those locked out of the means of image production becomes an impossible barrier to the right to full and equal human recognition,” says Sealy. “Especially if existence alone is an act of survival.”

FotoFest Biennial 2020 will feature over 30 artists from across the continent and its diaspora, making it one of the world’s largest exhibitions of African photography. Evans continues, “We are very excited by the program Mark Sealy is creating, and excited to use FotoFest’s international platform to showcase these dynamic artists.”

The AFRICAN COSMOLOGIES program will include the central exhibition, on view across multiple venues; a hardcover book; a conference on contemporary African photographic arts; forums and panel discussions; commissioned projects; a curated film program; and other programs. The hardcover book will include reproductions from Biennial artists, and essays from international experts on African art.


FotoFest will again stage the International Meeting Place Portfolio Review for Artists during the FotoFest Biennial 2020, March 8–21, 2020. A two week-long event that brings together 450 artists from over 30 countries, with nearly 200 national and international curators, publishers, gallerists, and photography industry leaders for one-on-one meetings, the Meeting Place remains the most international and largest portfolio review program of its kind in the world. Registration for the Meeting Place 2020 begins in summer 2019.

In addition to the AFRICAN COSMOLOGIES program, FotoFest organizes another exhibition, coordinated with the Meeting Place Portfolio Review. The Discoveries of the Meeting Place exhibition showcases ten artists selected from the Meeting Place 2018 as particularly interesting to an invited group of international reviewers. The Discoveries exhibition has a reputation for being a launching pad for artists’ careers.

Over 100 independent museums, art galleries, non-profit art centers and corporate spaces will participate in the FotoFest Biennial 2020 by presenting photographic work and photography-centered events during the festival’s six weeks. These Participating Spaces are important aspects of the city-wide festival.

Early funding for the development and presentation of the FotoFest Biennial 2020 comes from the Brown Foundation Inc., Houston Endowment, the Wortham Foundation, the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Read more about FotoFest