Through the Lens: How Photography Became Africa’s Most Popular Art Form

ARTnews | Sean O’Toole

Last fall, Jeanne Mercier, a French critic and curator based in Portugal, traveled to London to launch a new book. Her destination was the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, then commencing its fifth edition in the city of its founding, and the subject was Being a Photographer in Africa: The Ten Years of Afrique in Visu. Lavishly illustrated and packed with essays and interviews, the book draws on a significant history accumulated by the website Afrique in Visu, which has become an indispensable resource for followers of African photography. It also chronicles the emergence of a medium that, in the last two decades, has become contemporary Africa’s foremost art form.

Mercier created the site—whose name melds French with Latin and loosely translates as “Africa as we see it”—with her husband, the photographer Baptiste de Ville d’Avray, in Mali in 2006. As its editor-in-chief ever since, she has played a role in lending visibility and coherence to the continent’s flourishing, if often disconnected, photo communities. Mercier’s enduring work made her an ideal partner for Othman Lazraq, part of a new wave of African collectors who have demonstrated an appreciation for photography in its many and various forms. At 29, Lazraq is the energetic young president of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), a nonprofit institution recently established in Morocco and currently home to “Africa Is No Island,” an ambitious survey of contemporary photo work drawing on 40 photographers and collectives from across the continent.

“Photography is a medium I love and care for,” Lazraq said in February at the launch of the show, which was curated by Afrique in Visu with the input of associate curator Madeleine de Colnet. “The role of a museum is to engage and educate people, to somehow bring a small touch of light and hope.” To that end, Lazraq said, Afrique in Visu has aided in his aim to connect Africa’s disparate photographic communities by having “created bridges and completely destroyed boundaries between all these African countries, showing the cultural diversity between them.”…read more

Image: Joana Choumali, Mme Djeneba Haabré, 2013–14.