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PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor 1957-1960
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (1)

01
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor images x 3
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (2)

02
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor - Drum magazine
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (3)

03
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor - Colour Photo
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (4)

04
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor in Ghana
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (5)

05
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
Ferdinando Verderi
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (6)

06
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor and Nana Oforiatta-Ayim
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (7)

07
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor and Mohammed Ali
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (8)

08
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor - contact sheets
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (9)

09
PAST: Ferdinando Verderi
James Barnor and Mike Eghan
Hans Ulrich Obrist x James Barnor (10)

10
PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya
MANIFESTO by Olu Michael Odukoya

11
PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya
Modern Matter

12
PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya
Modern Matter’s 18th Issue, It’s Time to Listen

13
PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya
View Point by Thomas Lohr and Olu Odukoya

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PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya
Modern Matter, Remastered

15
PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya
THE AVANT/GARDE DIARIES

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PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya
Olu Odukoya and John Baldessari
Alexander Ikhide Photography

17
PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya

18
PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya

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PRESENT: Olu Michael Odukoya

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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FUTURE: Culture Art Society

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James Barnor
Ferdinando Verderi
Olu Michael Odukoya
Culture Art Society


In collaboration with Serpentine Gallery, we launch April 2021 with Past, Present, Future, a new series of films featuring the work of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor that celebrate Black British communities and diasporic stories, revealing rarely seen images from London’s past (edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Italian Vogue) a photographic archive remixed for today (created by Olu Michael Odukoya, Modern Matter) and a future showcase of African creative talent on the rise (curated by Culture Art Society (CAS)).

Barnor’s studio portraiture, photojournalism and lifestyle photography spans six decades and has gained recognition since 2010 as among the most important records of societies in transition during the postwar period.

The three new films for CIRCA, ‘Past, Present, Future’ reveal his archive not simply as a document of radical change but a living and fertile assemblage that continues to inspire emerging artists today.

The CIRCA presentation of Barnor’s work on the Piccadilly Lights screen completes a journey that began more than half a century ago, when Barnor photographed BBC Africa Service presenter Mike Eghan against the backdrop of Piccadilly’s neon signs in 1967. That electrifying image was among a group of photographs taken by Barnor that captured the experiences of London’s rising African communities and the forging of Black British identifies as formerly colonised countries gained independence.


  • -  Past (1-10 April) A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia. The footage includes black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders. A special cover for Vogue Italia will be published on the 10th March featuring British fashion model Adwoa Aboah under the Piccadilly Lights.

  • -  Present (11-20 April) London-based creative director Olu Michael Odukoya will revisit and reinvent the archive of James Barnor exploring three themes that have synergies jointly across James’ work and Odukoya’s, using sound performance, video, animation and graphics to remix the archives.

  • -  Future (21-30 April) A spotlight on five emerging African photographers, including David Nana Opoku Ansah, Silvia Rosi, Thabiso Sekgala, Adama Jalloh and Lebohang Kganiye, curated by Culture Art Society (CAS) and supported with funds raised by the #CIRCAECONOMY.
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PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

Barnor, born in 1929, was the first full-time newspaper photographer in pre-independence Ghana during the 1950s. He moved to Britain from Jamestown, Ghana in 1959 and spent the following decade creating a unique archive of works documenting the African diaspora who had immigrated to Britain. In contrast to the mostly white European photographers working in London at the time, whose work tended to emphasize cultural dislocation or juxtaposition, Barnor emphasizes the creative forces of cross cultural connections and productive qualities of scattered roots, prefiguring contemporary diasporic thinkers.

Barnor lived and worked in London for ten years, mostly for the pioneering South African anti-apartheid magazine Drum, which supported a generation of rising African photographers. Barnor’s photographs during his first decade in London captured the African culture and identity as it embraced the swinging sixties, seguing between diverse photographic genres to portray Ghana’s first Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, Muhammad Ali in training for a fight, Black models and celebrities, and eclectc everyday lives arrising in the London streets.

Barnor returned to Ghana in 1969, documenting political change in post-independence Accra. Now 91, he lives in London. Having spent much of his life little known to the public, Barnor has been hailed since 2007, when curator Nana Oforiatta-Ayim organized his first solo exhibition at the Black Cultural Archives in London. A major solo retrospective Ever Young: James Barnor followed in 2010 at Rivington Place, London.

“I came across a magazine with an inscription that said, ‘A civilisation flourishes when men plant trees under which they themselves never sit.’ But it’s not only plants – putting something in somebody’s life, a young person’s life, is the same as planting a tree that you will not cut and sell. That has helped me a lot in my work. Sometimes the more you give, the more you get. That’s why I’m still going at 90!” - James Barnor

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

His early works recorded Ghana as it headed towards independence and came to terms with modernity through new inventions, music and fashion. In the 1960s, Barnor moved to the UK to continue his work with South African magazine Drum, for which he shot numerous cover images throughout the decade, as well as developing his own brand of street reportage and documentary photography

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

The images he took in England made up an alternative vision of the Swinging Sixties, documenting the black British experience. His covers for Drum were instrumental in bringing black models into the mainstream British media

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

Barnor returned to Ghana in the early 1970s to open the first colour processing studio in the country. During this period, he was the first person to shoot outdoors and process images in full colour

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

Sean Jacobs, the founding editor of the popular website Africa Is A Country, has described Barnor’s work as ‘decolonising Ghana’, though Barnor said he thinks the country is still in the grip of colonialism.

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

Ferdinando Verderi is the Creative Director of Vogue Italia and the editor of the selected photographs by James Barnor for April.

Over the past few years, Ferdinando has been pioneering a new type of creativity for the fashion and luxury industry. His unique, concept driven process has shaped in-depth strategic and creative partnerships with Prada, Versace, and Adidas Originals, each time tasked with the complete re-positioning of the house’s voice and image.

Most recently, Ferdinando has been focused on the publishing world by re-thinking the iconic Vogue Italia publication, with the aim to bring it closer to its original position of industry challenger, creating in the first year a few unprecedented cases in the magazine’s history, including the first ever completely illustrated issue, involving no photographic production as an ecological statement, the first completely blank cover as a symbol of silence during the height of the pandemic in Italy, and covers drawn by children of 2 to 9 years old to introduce a discussion on the topic of youth during the pandemic. In September 2020, he conceived an issue with 100 covers, each dedicated to one person, each telling the story of their lives in 1 minute and most recently, an issue dedicated to animals in which no fur or leather were featured in the editorials.

Ferdinando’s work has been awarded with some of the highest honors in the creative industry, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, Gold Lions, as well as D&AD and Grand Clio Awards, where he has been the most awarded creative in the fashion and beauty category.

We Can't Do This Alone: Jefferson Hack the System

Together with Jefferson Hack, Ferdinando Verderi edited 'We Can't Do this Alone: Jefferson Hack the System' (2016).

Jefferson Hack is renown for his innovative vision on journalism, film, photography, television and digital media. He co-founded British fashion/culture magazines Dazed and Confused, Another Magazine, Another Man as well as their digital versions. Today he proposes this new publication in order to re-define the purpose of alternative media in the digital age, illustrating how a transdisciplinary approach can break the conventional mold of a magazine into a modern experience. Contains contributions by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Björk, Tilda Swinton, Rankin, Kate Moss, U2, Thom Yorke. This publication seeks to share methodologies and inspire creatives, suggesting anti-formula processes that can be adopted to define the future of publishing and communication.

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

Despite working as a photographer for more than six decades, Barnor’s work has only recently been in the spotlight. In 2007, the curator Nana Oforiatta-Ayim took an interest in his work and helped organise his first exhibition. ‘She was the first curator/writer to organise a show of my work and she is the first one who suggested I should do a book,’ Barnor said. An exhibition of his work, titled Mr Barnor’s independence diaries, took place at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, south London, later that year. In spring 2010, Barnor’s first US exhibition was presented by Autograph ABP

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

"My assignment, again for the Drum which brought me face to face with the great Muhammad Ali, when he was preparing to fight Brian London. I met him training in a crowded gym but was so star-struck, I did not say one word to him; I went with a model who acted as the interviewer so I was saved! I did not go to the fight, I watched on TV, but later I met him again in a London West End Hotel to take some more photographs of him. During my career, meeting and photographing Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, was the most exciting assignment." - James Barnor

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021
PLAY

PAST: A visual presentation of Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, edited by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders.

Barnor’s portraiture played a key role in documenting black women and men who, in the post-war period, had immigrated to Britain from African countries and were establishing their identity as British. His photographs include images of unnamed subjects, such the two smartly-dressed women in Wedding Guests, London 1960s who pose in front of one of the classic British telephone boxes designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, presumably on their way to a wedding. Other portraits feature public figures, such as the radio journalist Mike Eghan, host of a popular Ghanaian talk show aired on the BBC (Mike Eghan at BBC Studios, London 1967 and Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London 1967).

Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with James Barnor, March 2021

The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen

A Manifesto by Olu Odukoya

When I had the honour of first meeting James Barnor, one simple but revealing thing he said stuck in my mind. Showing me a photograph of a Ghanaian woman he had taken in the sixties, he said: “She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.” It struck me later that this statement said more about the nature of photography, as well as the subjectivity of beauty, than it had at first appeared to. Ask any individual to picture the most beautiful woman they have ever seen, and almost everyone will think of someone different—if a photograph is a definitive document, our memories of an image, or an object, or a person, are as individual as our tastes. Photography, too, is a medium of nostalgia: one which captures one perspective in an instant, but which has the power to suggest infinite narratives to anyone who was not present in the moment that the photograph was taken. Think of taking old photographs out of a long-unopened drawer and examining them, or showing them to someone else—what is experienced both is and is not what was experienced by the photographer him-or-herself. 

My intention is to expand my impression of Barnor’s work into a project that incorporates three discrete but interwoven subjects—women, Modernism and its use of colour, and the passage of and mutability of time—in such a way that I am also in dialogue with my own previous projects. From my gut reaction to his statement about the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen, I knew that it would be important to create something that touched on the role of women in our respective work, on the subjectivity of beauty, and on the inherent power of nostalgia, as well as the energising possibility of re-contextualising the familiar or historical. I was particularly inspired by the work of a favourite artist of mine, Robert Rauschenberg, and especially by his 1953 work, Erased de Kooning Drawing. For the piece, Rauschenberg approached Willem de Kooning, a hero of his, and asked him for a drawing to erase; the idea was that de Kooning’s work was iconic enough that Rauschenberg’s erasure of it, intended as an homage, was significant enough to be an artwork in its own right. Like Rauschenberg, I am showing my respect for Barnor’s work by playing with it, engaging in a dialogue with it, and erasing some of its original context in order to create a new one. Lawrence Weiner once said that being an artist had less to do with the final result than with the work being carried out itself. Barnor is already a master of the visual image—what I hope to do is the right work, through various processes, to transform his photographs into co-authored artworks that speak to an audience in 2021 as urgently as the originals did to an audience in the 1960s.

The themes I will be expanding on are as follows:

Women

A common theme in Barnor’s work has been the documentation of women, and in particular the documentation of black women. I knew that for this reason, it would be important for me to focus particularly on these images as I selected work for use in this project. There is a personal dimension to this for me, as I tend to do my own best work with women—women are my preferred subject in photography, but most of my most significant longstanding professional and creative relationships have been with women, too. It has always interested me that the idea of figures in the art world being “overlooked” is often seen as negative, when in fact discovering new work is one of the most exciting things about being an art lover. Both women and black subjects are seen as being overlooked and underappreciated, despite having been depicted in art for as long as art has been produced, and at the moment there is a suggestion that both groups are somehow “trendy” as a subject—this despite the fact that black women have always been the nucleus of black society, which is in many ways more matriarchal than patriarchal. I am interested in using the fact that Barnor’s work was often ahead of its time to produce a collaboration that feels genuinely contemporary and fresh, rather than simply paying lip-service to art and fashion trends.

Colour & Modernism

Some time ago, I produced a magazine project at Modern Matter inspired by Mondrian, merging images of the Dutch model Lara Stone with graphic design that took its colours from the most iconic works by the Dutch artist. I called this project “De Stijl,” a play on words that referenced the name of the Modernist Dutch art movement, but which also winked humorously at the fact that the fashion world is, after all, about “The Style.” Looking at Barnor’s work, it occurred to me how interesting it would be to take his images of Ghanaian women and present them with the same visual treatment, swapping out the colours that appeared in work by Mondrian for those that appear in the Ghanaian flag: red, green, yellow, and black. It’s a playful gesture that suggests a serious consideration: what if the culture we were familiar with had privileged black or African experiences instead, so that this was what had become the familiar aesthetic of Modernism, rather than that of Mondrian? It suggests an alternate art history, with a freer creative exchange between Africa and the West. There is another interesting dimension to the idea of using primary colour in the project, too: Barnor himself introduced colour photographic processing to Ghana in the 70s, setting up the first colour processing facility in the country. While in the UK, he also worked at Colour Processing Laboratories Ltd.

Time & Perspective

In order to explore this theme, I have created both an audio and a video component. The audio is comprised of ten recordings by a female reader, who describes images of women by James Barnor: the subject’s hair, clothes, posture and environment, her expression or apparent mood. This harkens back to Barnor’s categorising of one of the women he photographed as being the most beautiful he had ever seen—I am interested in exploring the way a description of a photograph acts like a bridge between a physical document and a mental image, conjuring a picture that is at once accurate and inaccurate, personal and universal. The idea came to me after I created an audio component for the 18th issue of Modern Matter, riffing on James Baldwin to create a countdown marking the passage of time. In order to extend the project to a wider audience, I am intending for the audio component of my work with Barnor to be available for download on the web, offering an opportunity to hear the images described before convening at Piccadilly Circus for the actual artwork.

The video, meanwhile, takes this idea of abstraction and its relationship with the concept of what is beautiful to the next level: using a pop aesthetic and short, disparate clips that include a tennis ball bouncing on the pavement, the interior of a brutalist structure, and a clutch of pink balloons in an urban setting, it suggests that what we think of when we think of “beauty” is much closer to a feeling—of warmth, of happiness, of goodness—than a single image of a person. It is a tribute to Barnor’s many photographs of women, in the sense that it helps conjure how they make the viewer feel. Time, of course, will always be a crucial element in a project that re-works fifty-or-sixty-year-old images for a new era. My collaboration with Barnor will operate on a decades-long continuum, and pull his work into the present age.  

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Olu Michael Odukoya, "The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen", 2021

London-based creative director, publisher and curator, Olu Michael Odukoya will be delving into the archive of James Barnor and taking over the Piccadilly Lights screen for the second third of April, 11th - 20th.

Olu Michael Odukoya regularly collaborates with eminent brands, artists and galleries, including Balenciaga, Sarah Lucas and Sadie Coles HQ, among others, both independently and through his creative agency OMO Creates. Earlier in his career, he worked with then Yves Saint Laurent creative director Stefano Pilati as art director of the brand’s advertising campaigns. He was also the launch art director of POP and currently publishes the brilliant art and lifestyle magazine Modern Matter.

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Olu Michael Odukoya, "The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen", 2021

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Olu Michael Odukoya, "The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen", 2021

Olu Michael Odukoya and Ben Hillwood-Harris - Physical Beings in a Physical World

Olu Michael Odukoya, "The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen", 2021

Under hazy light and the drone of airplanes at nearby Santa Monica airport, the legendary John Baldessari discusses art and the web in a new film by Todd Cole for arts magazine Modern Matter. After burning all his previous work in the early 70s and issuing the statement “I will not make any more boring art,” Baldessari re-defined the creative process and expanded accepted notions of art through appropriating images taken from advertising and film stills, garnering critical acclaim for covering his subjects with colored dots and displaying text-based works on billboards. More recently, Baldessari revealed his technical ambitions, creating his own iPhone app with LACMA, allowing users to remix famous still lifes and produce their own artworks. “We wanted to do something simple and beautiful, like the old Eames films or the educational films of the 60s and 70s, the kind of things I saw in junior high art class,” explains Cole, who collaborated with directors Peter J. Brant and Francesca Mirabella on the project. The short is part of an ongoing series where artists are asked a single, open-ended question about technology. “A generation like John’s has seen these technologies grow from their infancy,” explains Modern Matter Editor Olu Odukoya. “It’s interesting to hear an older artist talk about them.”

Olu Michael Odukoya, "The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen", 2021

Olu Michael Odukoya, "The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen", 2021

Olu Michael Odukoya, "The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Seen", 2021

CIRCA:
Awa, thank you for collaborating with us this month alongside James Barnor and Olu Michael Odukoya. Can we start by asking you what CAS do and what your mission is?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
It is a pleasure and thank you for having us! We are really looking forward to this month, and our 10 days. Culture Art Society (CAS) is an interdisciplinary research platform founded in 2013 that intersects critical studies, and art theory to research the cultural economy of African archives. Our multidisciplinary approach draws from and combines the moving image, visual arts, and literature - all practices which we deem archival - to form a critical curatorial praxis called memory work.

CAS was founded as a direct initiative to support wider access to archives outside of institutional boundaries by employing digital platforms, such as Instagram, to host a space for not only the realisation of a free and open approach to arts education, but also challenging hierarchies of cultural canons, and the Eurocentrism that institutionally for long has defined their perceptions.

Core to CAS, and our wider mission, is public programming aimed towards establishing meeting points between artist, audience, archives, and contemporary art practice. We run Echoes and Trembles: a geographically travelling programme in collaboration with public platforms and institutions to highlight the wide-ranging intellectual, critical, and artistic labour of filmmakers, thinkers, and widely cultural workers of African descent.

CIRCA:
James Barnor’s archive of street reportage in London tells some incredible stories about Black British experiences. Why is Barnor’s work so important?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
It certainly does and the answer(s) reside in the “Black British experiences” part of your question. Barnor’s works are important because they are richly layered, intimate visual readings into the lives of Black people at a time of significant transition and radical socio-political development in Britain and its former colonies.

There is a futurity to his archive, or what we like to call photographic porosity: timeless crossings of Black intimacies, continental and diasporic, that are birthed and continuously rearticulated in the encounter between people and photography transcending both time and space. His works compare and contrast resistant sensibilities, and tender negotiations between James’ eye, and those portrayed in the making of their own sense of self-actualization.

Observing and comprehending Barnor’s works, both on their own, and as part of a wider Black British visual corpus, is a reading going beyond the often assumed of Black photographic subjects. Instead, there is a registering of agency, and a poetics of love. One which undoubtedly undergirds the pursuit(s) of his and fellow generational artists, whom sought photography to both capture the inextricable relations between past, present, and future.

Cogitating this relation, is also a long standing Black tradition, whereby the camera lens is integral to the visual language and possibilities for Black communities to remember against the imposition of an external gaze.

CIRCA:
Can you tell us about your selection of young photographers for the final 10 days of April on the Piccadilly Lights, and why you chose them?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
For our 10 days we have selected five photographers to reflect on their contemporary practices in relation to Barnor’s work, whilst thinking around the many strands of which their trajectories are shared.

For example, Silvia Rosi (Togolese-Italian) creates studio portraits with strong visual references to classic West African studio portraiture in the restaging of her Togolese heritage, and personal Afro-Italian migration histories. Silvia’s works evoke the spirit of Barnor’s Ever Young Studio days, where the studio setting is a space through which one can be reinvented and reinterpretated.

Our second artist Thabiso Sekgala (South Africa) has a body of tender and personal portraits of the “born-free” generation of South Africans in reflection of the futility of home and belonging. Their quiet yet powerful observances are familiar with the works James took upon returning to Ghana after a decade in Europe. The deeply personal yet brooding tensions of (re)navigating space, time, and place, underlined by a mediation of seeing, is shared between Sekgala and Barnor.

Our third artist Adama Jalloh ( UK) is recognisable for her black and white portraits documenting the culturally rich landscape of London. In Jalloh’s oeuvre we recognise the shared sensibility of capturing intimacy in a way that yields a captivating and tender view into societies and cultures in transition. This is true of Barnor’s social documentary portraits taken across the UK throughout the 1960s.

David Nana Opoku Ansah (Ghana), our fourth artist, is a young Accra based photographer and filmmaker whose works exist at the nexus between fashion photography and studio portraiture. It explores community, freedom, and the ongoing socio-political temporalities in Ghana. David who cites James Barnor as an influence, represents the generation of emerging continental Ghanaians whose self-visualisation is greatly informed by James, yet breaks to extend ongoing dialogues between their now and what is also their past as found in James’s archive.

Finally, Lebohang Kganye (South Africa), whose works from Ke Lefa Laka / Her-story we have included, are restaged photographs found shortly after her mother’s death. The artist poses as her deceased mother, thus creates pictorial narratives as a mode of remembrance and honouring that is rearticulated through herself. Kganye’s revisiting of the archive embodies the current coming together of James’ works: the constant revisiting required to both preserve and unearth stories beyond the frame.

They have been selected to reflect a particular strand of James’ trajectory, but also an extension of how it, true to the archive, exists beyond an essence of time and place.

CIRCA:
What are some of the most pressing issues faced by BAME working-class people in London today?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
It is layered and this cannot be answered with just one response, but undoubtedly survival. The shared heightened awareness, and terrifying daily realisation that survival is so fortuitous, and very fickle for BAME working-class communities, in not just London but across the UK.

Underfunded healthcare, prisons, police, poverty, housing precarity, immigrant legislation, all these leave particularly migrants outside the bounds of “citizenship”, thus becoming dangerously vulnerable. There are so many issues, and the continuations of their conditions are interwoven into the fabric of the state.

CIRCA:
Culture Art Society (CAS) has a curatorial praxis that you call memory work , can you tell us more about this?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
In the early stages of developing our work, we knew what we were trying to do, but weren’t sure how to fully articulate a praxis that breathes the full scope of it. We coined memory work to facilitate a theoretical framework for our research of African arts, and efforts to digitally interrupt the physical integrity of its archival materiality. But more importantly to almost excavate spaces, institutions, and materials to institute a form of care-work for Black communities everywhere through the arts and curating.

“Who has access to participate? And how can we intervene in hierarchies and languages that inform not only access but also knowledge production?” These are a few of several questions that undergird our platform. Memory work is CAS’s curatorial pedagogy that occupies a space between experimentation, intervention, interdisciplinarity, yet anti-disciplinarity. On one hand in constant inquiry of how the digital realm reconfigures Black cultural mappings of ongoing decolonised possibilities, and on the other hand defy the notion that rigorous research is an inherent institutional practice.

CIRCA:
Can you recommend some critical readings for our audiences?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
Poetics of Relation (1990) by Èdouard Glissant ( a personal favourite that continues to inspire CAS’s work greatly)
Discourse on Colonialism (1950) by Aimé Césaire
Our Sister Killjoy (1977) by Amaa Ata Aidoo
Naming our Destiny (1989) by June Jordan
Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the MarketPlace (1999) by Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwezor
Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (2008) by Okwui Enwezor Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism ( 2008) by Grada Kilomba African Cinema: Politics and Culture (1992 ) by Manthia Diawara
So long a Letter (1979) by Mariama Bâ
Cemetery of Mind (1999) and House of Hunger (1978) by Dambudzo Marechera Listening to Images (2017) by Tina Campt
Venus in Two Acts ( 2009) by Saidiya Hartman
A map to the door of no return (2001) by Dionne Brand
The Fortunes of Wangrin (1987) by Amadou Hampaté Bâ
Reconstruction Work: Images of a Post War Black Settlement ( ) Stuart Hall

To add: a film is as much a critical reading, and text, as the literary form is! Check out all the African Cinema and Black diaspora films freely available in CAS’s film list.

CIRCA:
One aspect of Culture Art Society (CAS) is unearthing and highlighting the intellectual and artistic labour of African thinkers. Could you name a few thinkers whose work is now more important than ever?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
We think all of those and their work(s) have shared across the years on our instagram platform and recommended in question 6 are as important today as they were then. Regardless of disciplinary approach, their work(s) are sites of continuum that generously offer how to read and map an intervention of today. Alongside them we are currently also witnessing a profound buzz of young thinkers, with and without critical acclaim, who remind us that these conversations are collective.

CIRCA:
Tell us a bit about your residency this year at The Showroom. How can people support you?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
The Showroom has invited us to be in residence at Metroland Studios between January-September 2021, in partnership with Metroland Cultures. Our invitation builds upon ongoing conversations between CAS and The Showroom reflecting on the production of support structures for new curatorial research, and the ways of sustaining a wider reach of CAS’s work for the public.

As a self-funded platform with very limited resources and no funding we have not been able to realise our public programming at its fullest regular potential. We are working on launching our Kickstarter campaign in the coming months and strongly encourage people to support to help us materialise our pursuits to embark on exhibitions and collaborative public programming. Follow our IG page @cultureartsociety to stay tuned!

CIRCA:
Lynnette Yiadom-Boakye, David Adjaye, Virgil Abloh, John Akromfrah. The list goes on. What is it about Ghana that has given birth to so many incredible creatives ?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
Immense creative energy and its embodied thriving! But with that said, the creative outpouring is found everywhere on the African continent, and we are really lucky to be witnessing it! Beyond the birthing of local creatives, there is still widely a lack of unsupported infrastructure to continue the nurturing.

CIRCA:
What type of world do you think we might be transitioning into? And what hopes do you have for the future?

CULTURE ART SOCIETY (CAS):
We are transitioning into a strange territory of what the future holds, and the insistent reminder that all we really have is us and each other. Precarity, grieving, and mourning, have conjured so much and lingers. Yet, to a strange degree, it seems to have been pushed aside in favour of an idea of normalcy, that never really was, and therefore cannot be returned to. We are transitioning into a world, where it has become even more pressing for us, collectively, to strive towards dreaming of and creating an abolitionist world, meaning here culturally, materially, structurally, for the society we envision. These are our hopes for the future.

James Barnor: Ever Young, Ever Endearing

By Christian Adofo
1st April, 2021

James Barnor self-portrait, c.1957

“A civilisation flourishes when men plant trees under which they themselves never sit. But it’s not only plants-putting something in somebody’s life, a young person’s life, is the same as planting a tree that you will not cut and sell”. A pensive perspective from James Barnor, a British-Ghanaian photographer by practise yet his words belie a creative polymath whose repertoire spreads across five decades from pre-independence Ghana to his relocation to London in the 1960’s and back to Africa again. 

Through his archive, storytelling is at its core and the above mindset personifies an inherent foresight for legacy encouraging creativity and inspiring new generations regularly whether through fresh introduction via sharing of his images on social media or facilitating the projection of Black Africans not only in Africa but in the wider diaspora within migrant communities in the West. This worldly context portrayed through his images from his archive serves as the erudite epicentre for a series of three new films titled ‘Past, Present, Future’  for CIRCA in collaboration with The Serpentine who will host the first major survey of his James Barnor’s work in London this May. 

It represents an organic continuum that looks forward as much as it looks back in reflection, chronicling societies in transition in the post-war epoch. This cyclical creative conversation is evident through one of his most celebrated images where he captured Ghanaian BBC broadcaster Mike Eghan with the iconic Piccadilly neon lights in the background in 1967 and these newly commissioned films will return Barnor’s work on the screens at Piccadilly Circus. 

“The biggest contribution I could provide to James’ career was allowing the new generation to understand James’ relevance to the history of photography by creating something which wasn’t just new but it was sort of an interpretation of his past.” says Ferdinando Verderi, the creative director of Italian Vogue focused on the Past segment of the film series and was tasked with responding to rarely seen imagery from the archive. 

A synergy with Barnor’s work is reflected through his first cover for Italian Vogue where the DNA theme revolved around identity, heritage and the family of the three models featured. A sense of expressing early multicultural society far from a monolith through style is prominent from past to the present day for both. Verderi adds “It’s clear that the symbolic line I trace along these images has a very metaphorical meaning of tracing a history which is not necessarily chronological but is the history of a world and a community which James documented and created.” One image in question from the archive which inspired Ferdinando was that of Nigerian model and actor Marie Hallowi on a corner of Trafalgar Square in the presence of the landmark’s pigeon tenants. It emanated from James’ period with the seminal DRUM Magazine, Africa’s first black lifestyle magazine where he was in the midst of capturing Sixties London. Verderi reflects “(It) had a real strong sense of time warp between today and the time he took them. They are clearly images which have a period touch to them but they feel so ageless in their effort and context of today. He concludes, “These images remind us of a certain age in people regardless of the generation they belong to… I am always fascinated about how young people of today relate to people in the past.”

The reflective state in which images can teleport you to allows a comprehension of the context of the moment stood still despite time passing and is a strand brought to the Present segment of the film via a multimedia approach. “Showing me a photograph of a Ghanaian woman he had taken in the sixties, he said: “She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.” It struck me later that this statement said more about the nature of photography, as well as the subjectivity of beauty” says Olu Michael Odukoya, a London-based creative director of Nigerian heritage who shares reflections of his first encounter with Mr Barnor. His own response to James’ archive is a project titled “Ghana Monderain-Audio Sound” touching upon the themes of women,Modernism and its use of colour and the passage of and mutability of time. On the theme of women,Odukoya resonated with his documentation of black women through his photography. He explains,”Both women and black subjects are seen as being overlooked and underappreciated, despite having been depicted in art for as long as art has been produced” Odukoya further adds, “Black women have always been the nucleus of black society, which is in many ways more matriarchal than patriarchal. I am interested in using the fact that Barnor’s work was often ahead of its time to produce a collaboration that feels genuinely contemporary and fresh”.

Another aspect of Odukoya’s focus on the Present is reflected in his explorative disruption incorporating the red,green,gold and black colours of the Ghanaian flag designed by the late Theodosia Okoh into a painting by revered Dutch Modernist artist Mondrian. It’s a deliberate  juxtaposition which reframes the narrative of the black experience in a space of high culture and reimagines it in a utopian sense. Olu says “What if the culture we were familiar with had privileged black or African experiences instead, so that this was what had become the familiar aesthetic of Modernism, rather than that of Mondrian?” He explains “It suggests an alternate art history, with a freer creative exchange between Africa and the West.” It further aligns with the continuity in Barnor’s archive as he was the first to introduce colour photographic processing to Ghana and bring further richness to the global projection of livelihoods and landmarks in the West African nation setting up the first colour processing facility there in the 1970’s. 

The time and perspective theme of Odukoya’s work is explored through an audio-visual component. The former consists of ten recordings by a female reader, who describes images of women by James Barnor: the subject’s hair, clothes, posture and environment, her expression or apparent mood. Whilst the latter has an abstract approach portraying a number of contrasting scenarios which project beauty in his Olu’s description as “much closer to a feeling—of warmth, of happiness, of goodness—than a single image of a person.” In this context, it’s a constant and ever-shifting conversation not only with Barnor’s archive from the past but equally enables us to take stock of his work in the present day.

In the Future segment part of the series, the spotlight fell on five emerging photographers including Adama Jalloh, Silvia Rosi, Lebohang Kganye,Thabiso Sekgala and David Nana Opoku Ansah from the African diaspora. All very much aligned with James’ reemergence as a hospitable role model for a new generation of artists who have an example to show their parents of diasporic excellence in the arts. Led and selected by Awa Konaté, founder of Culture Art Society, a platform looking at the intersection of critical studies and art theory to delve into the cultural economy of African archives both on the continent and in the diaspora. “It has been like excavating so many complexities that exist within it”, Konaté reminisces on her relationship with the ample archive. She further explains,”Whether it’s a reading of migration or the Black British visual canon for example that James Barnor very much exists within or whether it’s about rethinking the history and also how the development of photography is such an integral framework for black communities to remember themselves against an external gaze.”

Despite the work consisting of copious images from the past, Konaté along with the curatorial team at The Serpentine would regularly posit future reflections on the themes that emerge and still hold resonance to the present experience of being a black African dependent on location. “It’s very timeless so it means a work may have been produced fifty, sixty or one hundred years ago but there is always going to be somewhat of a continuum or a reflection in the contemporary and present moment of their work.” This essence of timelessness was reflected in the selection of the five aforementioned photographers thinking about how their practises were relatable to different stages of James’ career. On the continuity of the photographers and Barnor’s work, Konaté breaks down each “Silvia is a Togolese-Italian photographer who creates a really rich body of studio portraiture that you would see in your family albums but she uses them as a way of almost reinterpreting the studio practise as a space of not just reinterpretation but also reintervention of one’s self. I find this to be so significant to James’ Ever Young studio period. He founded Ever Young in the early context of Ghanaian independence and the early context of this idea of nation building and remaking of one’s self.” She adds,” (the late) Thabiso Sekgala has an incredibly rich body of work that documents a generation of South Africans that were born after the abolition of apartheid. His work conveys such tenderness because it’s about trying to re-navigate not just space, time and place but also thinking about how they reconfigure what you are trying to capture with the eye. This really reminds me of James’ work when he returned to Ghana after a decade of being away in Europe” 

Accra based photographer “David Nana Opoku Ansah actually quotes James Barnor as a direct influence in his work but (is) also breaking away from that interpretation.” South African Lebohang Kganye “is famed for double portraiture where she is almost restaging an intervention into her mother’s photo album shortly after her mother had passed away. I find that so significant to James’ work because this is going to be his biggest retrospective and his biggest survey of work to date. Within this process which has been a constant coming together of things has been a reintervention into the archive excavating histories, finding out what people are,what part of James’ history do we know and what part of James’ history do we not know.” Adama Jalloh who creates rich black and white portraits documenting the cultural landscape of London and the way it is undergoing quite significant social, political and cultural transformation in photography and through her eye you are seeing that it takes a lot of familiarity but it also takes a lot of tenderness and distance to be able to document the society that she shows.” Taking photographs of black migrant communities at that time in constant flux of transition coming from what was then the Commonwealth and coming to the UK undergoing such cultural shock and also realising you are close to this culture but also very much at distance from this culture.” 

I query Awa on the juxtaposition between education and building a creative career that has given James the vim for longevity in his craft and she makes a poignant last reflection, “You have someone who actually pursues an education and tries to really make a very very rigorous knowledge about their work and share it with their people in such an important way of being communal.” Following in the vein of early facilitative spaces such as the Black Cultural Archives and Autograph, the scale of his forthcoming perspective at The Serpentine is one in which Konaté feels will open “a new foray in how to articulate and understand why Black British photographers are important to the repositories of British visual culture and British photography”. 

For the affectionately known “Lucky Jim” being the seed of creative conversation at 91 years young is a harbinger to planting deep roots he has nurtured and yielding his harvest not only across physical location but inspiring a new creative mindset for the branches of future generations to come. 


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Christian Adofo is an established writer, cultural curator and author based in North London. His passion for writing looks at the intersect of heritage and identity in Music and Culture across the cultural landscape. He is a regular contributor to publications including OkayAfrica,Straight No Chaser + We Jazz Magazine acknowledging seminal figures and interviewing burgeoning talents across the creative spectrum within the African diaspora. He is the Creative Producer at Crudo Volta,a visual collective focused on documenting contemporary youth and music cultures across Africa and the diaspora. His forthcoming debut book A Quick Ting On Afrobeats is released via Jacaranda Books in October 2021 as part of the first ever non-fiction series celebrating Black British culture.

Christian Adofo