The selection of artists provoked familiar comment on the politicsof representation and underscored the precarious circumstances of "established" contemporary photographers. Representation of female photographers was carefully balanced, and eight of the fifteen women werefrom North Africa and had already distinguished themselves on numerous occasions in solo or group presentations. Yto Barrada (who studiedat the ICP and deserved a solo exhibit in this highly regarded venue) needed no introduction, nor did Lara Baladi with her kaleidoscopic photomontages and installations. One notable attribute was the proportion of photographers who live and work in primarily Muslim countries. For the most part, the artists on display at Icy were slotted in contemporary art networks and galleries. Those who saw the biennale shows in Bamako, Dakar, Photo Espana, and London's 'Africa 05" found nothing new at ICP.
The organizers' laudable efforts to distance the public from cliched images of Africa promoted by Western media failed to mask the absence of a truly innovative approach to the work presented in the exhibit. We are hopefully past the point now when the adjective 'African" should be relied upon to hold a show together. Beyond this, it would have been interesting to learn more about the daily lives and workingconditions of the artists, such as the lack of recognition in their country of origin and the vagaries of international art markets. Withthe exception of South Africa, contemporary photography in Africa ismarginalized.
The Bamako festival, an international biennale venue, struggles to attract a local audience. Still, there are numerous artists who are keeping themselves busy, and it is not clear Enwezor tookthe time to find out what was happening locally despite extensive travel. It goes without saying that the funders, backers, and intended audience are all aspects of these limitations.
Enwezor is perhaps the most powerfully adept force in getting these kinds of artists seen in mainstream New York venues, no mean feat. Nor is gathering together the resources to publish a lavish exhibition catalogue, which is, to paraphrase Salah Hassan, the very basis forthe history of art. A fraction of these artists' former venues have had the means to fund quality illustrated publications. The opportunity to linger over pictures is perhaps "Snap Judgments"' most formidable contribution.
"Snap Judgments" traveled to Miami Art Central, Miami, through August 27, 2006. The exhibition catalogue, Snap Judgments: New Positionsin Contemporary African Photography, edited by Okwui Enzwezor (NY: ICP, 2006), is available from the icy store (shopping.icp.org/store; 212-857-9725) for $65.00.
Erin Haney is a visiting scholar at the National Museum of AfricanArt. She is currently curating a show on photographic history in Africa for the Davis Museum and Cultural Center.
Erika Nimis received her PhD in African history from the University of Pantheon-Sorbonne, Paris, in 2003. She is presently a postdoctoral fellow at the Laval University, Quebec City. She is the author of three books on Malian and West African photography,
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