The artists Anna Ekman and Cecilia Järdemar will do an artistic residency at the Linnaeus University during next year. This seminar is arranged jointly by Design + Art History and Visual Culture.
A collaboration with artists Anna Ekman and Cecilia Järdemar around historical dry-plate photographs from the Swedish Mission fields in the Congo 1890-1930, confronting issues around curating and re-coding colonial photography archives and photo-repatriation.
Inspired by Stanley's travels in the Congo delta, Svenska Missionskyrkan started sending missionaries to the area in the 1880's, and Sweden was soon one of the biggest operators there. The opening of the missionary fields coincided with the rapid spread of photographic techniques, and the camera's ability to meet, collect and construct the world was soon intrinsically linked with colonialism and the Christian missions.
We have been able to borrow boxes of dry plate negatives depicting the Congo, from the archive of Svenska Missionskyrkan, some of which have never been printed or catalogued before. The material is interesting both from a historical and a photographic viewpoint – and for Sweden as well as the Congo. Congo DR is currently trying to rebuild the country after the slave trade, colonization, Mobuto's dictatorship and both the Congo wars, but there is a lack of a common historiography. There are barely any photographs from the historical period left in the country, since the colonizers controlled the technology, and the tropical climate and political turbulence has destroyed what was left. The missionaries were also very much part of a process whereby they documented the existing culture in the places where they settled down – then set out to do their very best to change, or even destroy it, as part of the Christianisation.
How can we confront these types of images today, from a Swedish perspective, and from a Congolese perspective? How can historical images be repositioned and repurposed? What alternative meanings and readings can emerge by creating new artworks taking the archive as a starting point? Through a collaborative enquiry with contemporary Congolese artists, making works in response to the archive from both viewpoints, we look beyond our own context-specific histories.
Image: "Monument to the porters of Kingoyi", by Anna Ekman and Cecilia Järdemar
This seminar i supported by the project "Det kulturella universitetet".