Black Chronicles II

2 September - 11 December 2015

The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art

Cambridge, MA, USA

Free exhibition

Black Chronicles II explores the presence of black subjects in Victorian Britain through the prism of late 19th century studio portraiture.

The Cooper Gallery installation presents the U.S. premiere of this critically acclaimed exhibition, first shown at Rivington Place, London in 2014.  The second in a series of exhibitions dedicated to excavating archives, Black Chronicles II showcases Autograph ABP’s commitment to continuous critical enquiry into archive images which have been overlooked, under-researched or simply not recognised as significant previously, yet are highly relevant to black representational politics and cultural history today.

The exhibition presents more than 100 photographs, a majority of which have only recently been unearthed as part of Autograph ABP’s on-going archive research programme The Missing Chapter. Presented alongside works from the Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company (LSC) collection is a selection of rare albumen prints, cabinet cards and cartes-de-visite that became popular collectibles in the late 19th century. These portraits depict dignitaries, servicemen, missionaries, visiting performers, known personalities and many as yet unidentified sitters  – their collective presence bearing direct witness to Britain’s colonial and imperial history, and the expansion of the British Empire.

A highlight of the exhibition is a newly rediscovered series of exquisitely rendered photographic portraits from the Hulton Archive’s LSC collection, featuring more than 30 portraits of The African Choir, which toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. Originally photographed on glass plate negatives, these extraordinary images lay buried deep within the archives for decades, and are presented here for the first time in 125 years.

As a curated body of work, these images present new knowledge and offer different ways of seeing culturally diverse sitters in Victorian portraiture, contributing to an on-going process of redressing persistent ‘absence’ in the historical record. For the first time, a comprehensive body of photographs primarily taken in commercial studios across Britain in the latter half of the 19th century is brought together - developed through pioneering curatorial research in the holdings of several archives and privately owned collections.

The exhibition’s 19th century photographs are presented in dialogue with Effnik, a contemporary artwork by Yinka Shonibare MBE commissioned by Autograph ABP in 1996.  Dedicated to the memory of Professor Stuart Hall (1932-2014), Autograph ABP’s former chairman and ground-breaking cultural theorist, and features text and audio excerpts from Hall’s evocative 2008 keynote speech on archives and cultural memory.  

Black Chronicles II’ documents a distant era from a foreign country, but it is strikingly relevant to modern Americans, especially those who have an historical affinity and a familial connection with the United Kingdom,' says Vera Grant, Executive Director of the Cooper Gallery. “Autograph ABP unearthed the catalogue of a community previously unseen yet clearly vibrant, proud, drawn from diverse experiences, and as alive with spirit as anyone today. We are thrilled to be the first U.S. stop for this exceptional collection.'

Autograph ABP Curator and Head of Archive Renée Mussai, who co-curated Black Chronicles II with Director Mark Sealy, says this collection discredits the notion that black faces in Victorian Britain were absent from the historical and visual record.

She says the exhibition’s premise is to 'open up critical enquiry into the archive and continue our mission of writing black photographic history. At the heart of the exhibition is the desire to resurrect black figures from oblivion and re-introduce them into contemporary consciousness.'

'Black Chronicles II is a stunning exhibition and the fact that the majority of the negatives unearthed from within the Hulton Archive have lain undisturbed, bound in brown paper and string for over 120 years, is truly extraordinary,' said Matthew Butson, Vice President of the Hulton Archive.

About the Cooper Gallery

The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery is a free-to-the-public gallery highlighting contemporary and historical exhibitions and installations of African and African American art, complemented by free public programming.

Part of the acclaimed Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, and housed in a space designed by prominent British architect David Adjaye, the Cooper Gallery showcases diverse cultures, archives and historical traditions. Its programming offers local engagements, workshops, artist talks, academic symposia, and lectures.

Curated by

Black Chronicles II is curated by Renée Mussai and Mark Sealy

Research for Black Chronicles II and The Missing Chapter project is led by Renée Mussai at Autograph ABP.

Renée Mussai is Curator and Head of Archive at Autograph ABP. She is currently a PhD candidate at UCL; her research is concerned with black portraiture, photography and the archive.

Mark Sealy MBE is the Director of Autograph ABP. He is currently a PhD candidate at Durham University; his research focuses on photography and cultural violence.

In collaboration with

Black Chronicles II is produced in collaboration with the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images. Hulton Archive is a major visual resource and home to more than 80 million image, only a fraction of which are digitized. One of the oldest and largest archives in the world, its content is drawn from approximately 1,500 individual collections. Hulton Archive offers a wealth of original and unique photographic material, from the birth of photography to the present day, alongside engravings, maps, cartoons, etchings, lithographs, illustrations, and related visual ephemera. Getty Images is the leading provider of digital media within the image- and video-licensing industry. Situated in Westbourne Park, London, the Hulton Archive is a national treasure trove of imagery. www.gettyimages.co.uk/editorialimages/archival.

Black Chronicles II features the collections Autograph ABP, Hulton Archive, Paul Frecker/The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Jenny Allsworth, and Val Wilmer. It is supported by Arts Council England, with original research funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. It is dedicated to the memory of former Autograph ABP’s chairman Professor Stuart Hall (1932-2014) and features text and audio excerpts from Hall’s seminal 2008 keynote speech on archives and cultural memory. For more information, visit www.autograph-abp.co.uk

Press contact

Images and background materials from the exhibition are available, as well as advance interviews with Cooper Gallery and Autograph ABP leaders about the exhibition and its contents. If you would like an early in-person preview viewing of “Black Chronicles II” and/or a guided walkthrough with exhibition officials, please contact us below.

John Michael Kennedy or Bob Meadows
Goodman Media International for Cooper Gallery, at: 
+1 857-317-2964 (Boston)
+1 212-576-2700 (NYC) 

Additional Info

The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art
Hutchins Center for African & African American Research
Harvard University
102 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

T: +1 617.495.8508
E: thecoopergallery@fas.harvard.edu
W: http://hutchinscenter.fas.harvard.edu/cooper-gallery

Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm
Closed: Sunday, Monday, and on Official Harvard University Holidays

The Cooper Gallery is dedicated to making the space available to all visitors.
All public areas of the gallery are wheel chair accessible.
Assistance may be needed at the entrance; the front door is not automatic.
Service dogs are welcome.