How to Continue and why African Posters.
In short – because it wants doing.
And the second longest version (the longest being the collection itself) :
There are not many institutions in or outside Africa that collect to preserve the ephemeral graphic output of this continent and the few collections that do so have a predominantly regional focus in archives in South Africa, Addis Ababa, North Western University and Basler Afrika Bibliographien, the latter specializing in Namibian poster art.
Being no experts in any of the areas of our various comprehensive collecting efforts, we always hoped that our passionate approach to the medium of the poster as well as a curiosity driven interest and perhaps naive embrace of all the multifarious contents conveyed through them may somewhat make up for our near total absence of in-depth and specialized knowledge.
The current result of our voracious appetite to learn by collecting through the artefact as well as the process of accumulating with its incredibly rich experiences associated around it, stands – so far – at 16.000 posters on everything Africa. They document and illustrate the post-colonial social, political and cultural history of the continent and the attitudes and stereotypes of the foreign individuals and populations that engaged with it.
As far as we know, this represents the first attempt at systematically – well, as systematically as possible, the gaps are very painful ! . . . but then again, no pain no gain – at building a poster collection that besides the anti- and post-colonial also covers the colonial period of Africa. This not from a national perspective but universally with many pivotal and iconic pieces, issued by all colonial players and spanning the long century from the Berlin Conference in the mid-1880s to the present.
Incidentally also precisely the trajectory of the poster right from its infancy – and still alive and kicking today !
In fact the oldest poster in the assemblage is an unusually large French woodblock print from the 1870s (in roughly DIN-A-0 format!) produced for an itinerant animal tamer, advertising the civilizing effect of himself PLUS the Lamb of God on a whole array of now ever so docile African diaspora wildlife. One doesn’t want to know how exactly the trick was achieved while the merciful lamb was for example busy grazing.
Dates and locations to be printed or glued on the poster as the voyage of the handlebar-moustached gentleman in his long-tailed tuxedo together with his similarly tailed but rather more hairy entourage proceeded through La Grande Nation.
Unfortunately there are no posters to speak of the earlier civilizing missions to the Dark Continent . . . or so we thought before encountering the posters advertising the many productions of the Hollywoods and Cinecittas which touch upon aspects of early and globalizing trade and exploitation in scenes with presumably Africa imported lions eating Christians and black gladiators in the Colosseum or great – and less so – Hollywood operas about Cleopatra’s fine needlework that couldn’t prevent the invasion from the North.
Or the Italian Sword and S(c)andal film in which one can watch the famous bust that the Berliners today are so unashamedly proud of ACTUALLY being manufactured in 1961AD Italy – a monstrous forgery, shielded and covered up by the building of an even more monstrous Wall that same year to effectively keep evolving Western dating technologies, the disgruntled Italians AND Egyptians largely away from the ‘artefact’ for decades ?
Or how about 60 elephants punic . . ehh . . punitively stampeding through Roman battle formations in North Africa, like on this spectacular example by artist René Péron on a grand French 2,4 X 1,6 meters two-sheet poster for the first film ever shot in the 1937 newly opened Cinecitta Studios.
Scipio Africanus “reinforced (fascist) Italy’s primal right to a place in the African sun, with an equally grandiose pictorial conception, produced during Italy’s war against Abyssinia – and heavily backed by Mussolini’s government. This was the most expensive Italian film ever made, drawing upon Rome’s imperial past to justify Italy’s expansionist present.”
And then of course Sub-Sahara Africa – having been silent for so long, probably and strangely since WE left there 100.000 years ago – suddenly SPEAKS . . . and in how many languages !
The documentary material came from a 14 month expedition in 1928 that covered 14,000 miles and the film shows predominantly footage of Wassara and Ubangi tribes in the Belgian Congo, where a generation earlier 10 million African people lost their lives under a colonial regime that desperately needed rubber for their Michelin car tyres.
As it happened, the film material was eventually turned into this sexploitative 1930 movie, the fate apparently of much early ‘documentary’ film footage depicting bare African breasts.
The title itself is a reference to the first film in which Garbo’s husky voice is heard on the screen – ‘Anna Chrisina’ which was publicized with the slogan ‘Garbo Talks’ and released earlier that same year.
Her famous opening line is “Give me a whisky, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy.”
A notion of generousity that hopefully shall nicely inform the West’s current rapproachement and re-evaluation in its wheelings and dealings with Africa on all levels.
The film industry, especially and ever that of Hollywood, was on the whole more engaged in – if not creating, then confirming, sustaining and cementing prevalent perceptions, myths, stereotypes and prejudice of the ‘Dark Continent’ as the (projected) home of some of our most naked and darkest fears.
While as a species – dark skinned all but for the last 5 minutes of our ex-African journey of conquest – our inner landscapes with its deepest abysses having been formed in those strangely familiar but thrilling jungles and savannas most of us to this day are only in the process of getting visually re-acquainted with . . . since the advent of the – until the 60’s mainly silver screen.
And only roughly since ‘Garbo Talks’ we are able to listen again to and resonate with that soundtrack of our shared past – in cinemas and at home – the menacing drums of Africa – and those of the Native Americans – which in fact is the Blues and Rock’n Roll of our own heartbeat.