FotoFest Biennial 2020: African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other

FotoFest Biennial 2020

FotoFest Biennial 2020
African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other
March 8–April 19, 2020

Grand opening: March 7, 8–11pm, free and open to the public

The FotoFest Biennial 2020 opens to the public with a large-scale celebration to kick off FotoFest’s 18th Biennial on Saturday evening, March 7, in Houston, Texas. The Biennial’s central exhibition, African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other, and its related programs, examine the complex relationships between contemporary life in Africa, the African diaspora, and global histories of colonialism, photography, human rights and representation. The exhibition links notions of blackness untethered to the specificity of geography or chronology. The exhibition is curated by Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP, an organization founded in 1988 in London to support black photographic practices, and dedicated to exploring identity, representation, human rights, and social justice.

African Cosmologies is on view March 8–April 19, in two adjacent warehouses, Silver Street Studios, and Winter Street Studios in the Arts District Houston. The exhibition features 33 international artists, and includes historic work from the mid-20th century, important works from the 1980s–2000s, recent work, and newly commissioned pieces from exciting, emerging artists. The array of work, while not aspiring to be encyclopedic, is nonetheless broad in scope and engaged with contemporary social and creative concerns. It is one of the largest surveys of contemporary African photography ever presented in the United States, and includes a number of artists that have exhibited with FotoFest in the past.

FotoFest Executive Director Steven Evans addressed the organization’s legacy, noting “FotoFest has a strong reputation for working on a global scale, and focusing its biennial on themes, regions, and artists deserving of greater attention. More than that, we have a history of creating a space for the artists to address their concerns directly. It is a platform that serves artists and their voices.”

Representation, and the freeing of the photographic image from imposed “objective” readings is a subtext of the African Cosmologies exhibition. Curator Mark Sealy says, “Photography for those locked out of the means of image production becomes an impossible barrier to the right to full and equal human recognition. The establishment of a canonical reading of photography is a decidedly European affair and is in no way universal or democratic.” Sealy continues, “From the beginning, photography was wrapped up in the violence and colonialism of Europe and Africa. I hope this will let us explore who owns photography, and how different histories are now coming to the fore.”

The FotoFest Biennial 2020 continues the organization’s mission to advance a decolonized view of the world and promotes a broader understanding of photography, photographic histories, and the authors of those histories.

The featured artists are making work about a number of current and prescient issues including, migration and immigration, access to natural resources, colonial legacies, technology, gender rights, genealogy, sexual identity, education, conflict, representation, and access.

The exploration of many of these themes continue outside of the central exhibition’s galleries, with six weeks of associated programming including exhibition tours, talks with artists, films, lectures, and a special day-long symposium on Saturday, March 21. Daytime panels with Biennial artists, researchers, musicians and writers take place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, before a special closing lecture with acclaimed Senegalese philosopher, economist and writer Felwine Sarr in the evening. Details and tickets for the Symposium and other programming are available on the FotoFest website.

In addition to its central exhibition African Cosmologies, the FotoFest Biennial 2020 features an additional exhibition, Ten by Ten, originating from the International Meeting Place, FotoFest’s much-lauded portfolio review for artists. Ten by Ten (formerly known as the Discoveries of the Meeting Place), is one of the Biennial’s most popular exhibitions, highlighting ten portfolios chosen by ten international reviewers from the Meeting Place in 2018. The featured artists are just a few of the hundreds of success stories that emerge from the Meeting Place each Biennial.

The 2020 International Meeting Place Portfolio Review takes place over two weeks at the start of the Biennial, March 8–21. The event brings together over 400 artists from around the world for one-on-one meetings with influential, international career-making professionals—curators, editors, publishers, gallerists, collectors, and photo agencies. The Meeting Place is one of the innovators of the profession portfolio review, and remains the longest-running, most international portfolio review program in the United States, and the largest in the world.

Art works from four African Cosmologies artists, Bruno Boudjelal, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Eustáquio Neves, and Nyaba L. Ouedraogo, will be among the 61 lots offered at the FotoFest Fine Print Auction on Thursday, March 12. The curated auction also features works from other important and influential artists, many featured in previous FotoFest Biennials and exhibitions, including Tarek Al-Ghoussein, Susan Derges, Pixy Liao, Marcus Lyon, and Vicky Roy.

As an extension of the Biennial, FotoFest has co-published with Schilt Publishing (Amsterdam), a book to accompany the central exhibition. African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other features images and information from the 33 FotoFest Biennial 2020 artists, as well as texts and essays by Biennial Curator Mark Sealy; artist and writer Olu Oguibe; historian, critic, and curator Christine Eyene; Azu Nwagbogu, Founder and Director of the non-profit African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), and the annual LagosPhoto Festival in Lagos, Nigeria; and noted scholar and cultural critic, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

FotoFest was founded in Houston in 1983 as a platform for art and ideas. Over the past 37 years, it has developed a reputation for its thoughtful explorations of societal and cultural concerns through photography and art. It exhibits international, national, and regional artists, year-round, in Houston and abroad. Its largest program is the eponymous, citywide FotoFest Biennial, the first and longest running event of its kind in the United States.

Free registration for the grand opening HERE

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