Tate Modern launches a major new exhibition celebrating the dynamic landscape of photography across the African continent today. Bringing together 36 artists from different generations and geographies, A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography explores how photography and video has allowed artists to examine legacies of the past while imagining more hopeful futures. Unfolding across three chapters, the exhibition charts the dialogue between photography and contemporary perspectives on cultural heritage, spirituality, urbanisation, and climate change to reveal shared artistic visions that reclaim Africa’s histories and reimagine its place in the world.
Aida Muluneh, Star Shine …commisioned by WaterAid.jpg
Since the invention of photography in the 19th century, Africa has been broadly defined by Western images of its cultures and traditions. During the colonial period, it was used as a tool to construct the representation of African societies through a Eurocentric lens. Challenging these dominant images of the continent, A World in Common features over 150 works that illuminate how photography can imagine alternative visions of Africa’s many histories, cultures and identities. Regal portraits of kings and queens join intimate scenes of family life and stark documentary images of post-industrial ruin. Family photo albums and stylishly composed studio portraits reflect the shared sense of community and belonging that connects Africa and its global diaspora, while scenes of devastated coastlines and otherworldly landscapes consider the growing impact of the climate emergency. Guiding viewers along many landscapes, borders, and time zones, the exhibition showcases how photography allows the past and future to co-exist in powerful and unexpected ways.
During the precolonial period, many African societies were governed as kingdoms where ancient dynasties held an important role in the shaping of spiritual and cultural identity.
Interweaving historical narratives with imagined scenes of Africa’s regal past, artists including George Osodi and Kudzanai Chiurai explore histories of anticolonial resistance and political revolt. The power of ritual plays an important role in many African religions and spiritual practices.
For artists such as Khadija Saye, Rotimi Fani-Kayode and Maïmouna Guerresi these rites of passage and acts of remembrance offer portals between the living and their ancestors. Shape shifting between the spiritual and physical world, West African masquerade has traditionally been used to embody spirits during performances and ceremonies. In photographic works by Edson Chagas and Zina Saro-Wiwa, it becomes a powerful medium for the activation of cultural memory and collective identity.
The exhibition explores the rise of studio photography across the continent during the 1950s and 60s – a time when many African nations gained independence. Working within their local communities, pioneering photographers such as James Barnor in Ghana and Lazhar Mansouri in Algeria, photographed families and individuals who would gather proudly to have their portraits taken, often for the first time. Further enhancing this rich history of self-expression and representation, artists such as Atong Atem, Sabelo Mlangeni and Ruth Ossai consider the contemporary relevance of family portraiture as a space of kinship and connection.
The legacy of postcolonial utopias continues to inspire artists to confront present-day landscapes at a time when Africa’s place in the world has never been more vital. The stark realities of globalisation and inequality are made visible as artists contemplate the impact of climate change and urbanisation on local communities. The work of François-Xavier Gbré, Andrew Esiebo and Kiluanji Kia Henda documents the expansion and transformation of urban cityscapes while Mário Macilau, Aida Muluneh, and Julianknxx explore themes of migration and climate activism in ways that empower the viewer to imagine hopeful new futures.
Inspired by the ethos of A World in Common, London-based designer and photographer Ronan Mckenzie has created a free public space outside the exhibition for people to gather and relax. Equipped with sofas, desks and soft furnishings, Common Ground invites visitors to take a book from its library or listen to a specially curated playlist by Touching Bass, offering a welcoming place to work, rest and connect with others.
A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography is curated by Osei Bonsu, Curator, International Art, with Jess Baxter and Genevieve Barton, Assistant Curators, International Art and Katy Wan, former Assistant Curator, International Art, Tate. The exhibition is supported by the A World in Common Exhibition Supporters Circle, Tate Americas Foundation, Tate International Council, Tate Patrons and Tate Members.
Tate Members get unlimited free entry to all Tate exhibitions including A World in Common. To become a Member, please visit: shop.tate.org.uk/membership. Everyone aged 16-25 can visit all Tate exhibitions for £5 by joining Tate Collective. To join for free, please visit: tate.org.uk/tate-collective
A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography
6 July 2023 – 14 January 2024
Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Open daily 10.00–18.00. Follow @Tate #AWorldinCommon
List of artists
Kelani Abass; Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou; Malala Andrialavidrazana; Atong Atem; Sammy Baloji; James Barnor; Edson Chagas; Kudzanai Chiurai; Ndidi Dike; Andrew Esiebo; Em’kal Eyongakpa; Rotimi Fani-Kayode; Hassan Hajjaj; Délio Jasse; Julianknxx; Samson Kambalu; Kiripi Katembo; Lebohang Kganye; Kiluanji Kia Henda; François-Xavier Gbré; Maïmouna Guerresi; Mário Macilau; Lazhar Mansouri; Sabelo Mlangeni; Cristina de Middel; Santu Mofokeng; Fabrice Monteiro; Aida Muluneh; Wura-Natasha Ogunji; Zohra Opoku; George Osodi; Ruth Ossai; Léonard Pongo; Dawit L. Petros; Zina Saro-Wiwa; Khadija Saye.
Conversation On Art: A Conversation In Common
6 July 2023; 18.30–20.00; £12 (£8 concession; £5 Tate Collective)
A rare chance to hear from a panel of exhibiting African photographers about how they are constructing, inventing, and revealing narratives about Africa’s histories, traditions, and communities. Chaired by the exhibition’s curator Osei Bonsu, it explores how contemporary African photography is addressing social, political and environmental shifts to reimagine Africa’s role in a global society.
Tate Modern Late
28 July 2023; 18.00–22.00; Free
A night of music, workshops, food and more inspired by the themes in A World In Common. Enjoy DJ sets programmed by South London-based collective, Touching Bass, listen to discussions between the exhibition’s curators and local photographers, and create your very own hand-assembled collage.
A World in Common Exhibition and Wine Tasting with Banele Vakele
7 July 2023; 18.30–20.30; £22 (Concessions available)
In celebration of A World In Common, Tate Eats have teamed up with South African wine maker Banele Vakele to blend a bespoke Chenin Blanc and Syrah. Join Vakele to hear about his approach to wine making and be one of the first to enjoy Tate Modern’s new bar, The Corner. Tickets include after-hours access to the exhibition. Find out more here.
A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography
Edited by Osei Bonsu
Paperback £32.00; Hardback £40.00
A celebration of the visual and cultural landscape of contemporary
African photography, this stunning book offers critical insight from
Africa’s leading artists. Featuring contributions from Jennifer Bajorek; Sandrine Colard; Emmanuel Iduma and Nomusa Makhabu, it brings together a diverse range of artists and thinkers to present perspectives on issues such as spirituality, urbanism and climate change. This book reveals the many ways images travel across time and geography, and how artists are redefining perceptions of the world we inhabit.