Mario Cravo Neto (1947–2009)
Mario Cravo Neto initially focused on three-dimensional works of art. In 1968 he enrolled in a two-year course of studies at the Art Students League in New York, after which he returned to his home country Brazil. He experimented with literally organic sculptures: Plexiglas terrariums containing living plants. Cravo Neto also created Land Art projects, which he documented with a video camera. However, it was not until 1975 − after a car accident forced him to endure a year of bed rest − that he definitively chose photography as his artistic discipline.
Working in his studio, he created well-balanced, subdued compositions in black-and-white, whose subjects were people, animals such as birds and fish, and a treasure trove of everyday objects. Some of the representations and titles refer to mythological figures from the Candomblé religion. The roots of this belief lie in the traditional African Yoruba culture, which travelled with the slaves shipped by Portuguese colonists to Brazil in the sixteenth century. They were forced to convert to Catholicism, but this resulted in religious syncretism, with Candomblé as the Brazilian variety and Voodoo as the Haitian.
Cravo Neto was also an adept of the Candomblé religion and spent almost his entire life working and living in Salvador (Bahia), the city of his birth and traditionally the centre of Candomblé. In 2009 Cravo Neto died here and six years later, the Instituto Mario Cravo Neto was founded, and his archives were placed under the management of the Instituto Moreira Salles in Rio de Janeiro. Apart from several vintage prints, Huis Marseille also has several new prints on exhibit that were produced at the Museum’s request by Christian Cravo, one of the photographer’s sons. These photographs belong to a selection of 136 black-and-white photos taken between 1977 and 2000 which were published by Cravo Neto in his photography book The Eternal Now (2002).
Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955–1989)
Rotimi Fani-Kayode was born in Nigeria, but a military coup forced his family to flee to London when he was 14. After studying economics in Washington DC at his parents’ insistence, he studied visual arts and photography at the Pratt Institute in New York. In 1983 he moved to London, where he met his partner Alex Hirst (1951–1992). Identity is a recurring theme in the work of Fani-Kayodes, who formulates his thoughts on this as follows: ‘On three counts I am an outsider: in terms of sexuality; in terms of geographical and cultural dislocation; and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for.’
Homosexuality is still taboo in many African countries, and even today many African homosexuals suffer degradation, repudiation, imprisonment, violence and even murder. Although Fani-Kayode experienced a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in the Western world, he nevertheless belonged to a minority group on account of his African origin. This feeling of detachment led him to embark on a quest for his Nigerian roots. Prior to his family’s exile, his father had held an esteemed position within the Yoruba community as a priest. Fani-Kayode’s photographic language is loaded with references to ancestral gods, rituals and objects from the Yoruba culture, on the one side, and homoerotic longing, on the other.
Even from the very beginning he dedicated himself to studio photography, initially in black and white and, starting in 1986, also in colour. His models – always men, naked or garbed in traditional clothing – take on theatrical poses in beautifully balanced compositions. In 1988 Fani-Kayode became the co-founder and chairman of Autograph ABP – the Association of Black photographers in London, a platform for photographers of a non-European origin. One year later he died of AIDS, at the age of 34. Autograph ABP has been charged with the management of Fani-Kayode’s archives since 1992.
Zanele Muholi (1972)
Zanele Muholi has been working on a growing series of portraits of black homosexuals and transgenders in Africa and the rest of the world since 2006 under the title Faces and Phases.
Homosexuality is taboo in her home country South Africa, just as it is in many other African countries. Repudiation, bullying, acts of violence such as ‘curative rape’ and murder are the harsh reality for members of the black LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex) community. Muholi, who is herself a lesbian, considers her work as a form of protest: visual activism. Through her archive of portraits, she promotes the visibility to a group of people who would otherwise be ignored, keeping their memory alive. It is certainly not unthinkable that the people in her photographs will at some point lose their lives due to their sexual orientation.
The resistance that she faces is not to be trivialized; she is accused of making pornographic, immoral and offensive work. In 2012, the hard drives containing a large portion of her photographs, videos and documents were stolen from her apartment. Muholi is represented with several works in the collection of Huis Marseille. This presentation also contains a recent acquisition from the series Somnyama Ngonyama, which is translated into English as Hail, the Dark Lioness. In this series, Muholi’s camera is pointed exclusively at herself, examining the many challenges that the black community is continually faced with: discrimination, stigmatization, stereotyping. We see her wearing a wide array of hairstyles, headpieces, clothing or pigments: from blackface to colonial maid, from traditional African to Western. In 2016 Muholi was awarded the prestigious ICP Infinity Award by the International Center of Photography in New York in the category Documentary and Photojournalism.
Martin Gusinde (1886–1969)
The German missionary Martin Gusinde was sent to Santiago, Chile in 1912. In 1918 he undertook his first expedition to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point of South America. In this isolated region he conducted research into indigenous populations threatened with extinction: Selk’nam, Yamana and Kawésqar.
His involvement was so great that he came to be fully accepted by these people, and was even initiated into the tribes of the first two. In anthropological jargon this research method is referred to as ‘participating observation’ or ‘going native’. The latter term can literally be applied to the photographs showing Gusinde surrounded by the indigenous population, his face decorated with ritual paint. Initially, the people he observed regarded his camera with great distrust, arising from the fear that this black box would capture and destroy their soul. Ultimately, he was able to convince them that this device was harmless.
During the many years spent in field research – Gusinde undertook four expeditions to Tierra del Fuego between 1818 and 1924 – he took over 1,200 photographs, most of them portraits. They represent the most important traces of populations that have since fallen into extinction, and which barely possessed any material culture. These photographs and the remaining items in Gusinde’s archives are currently located in the collection of the Anthropos Institut in Sankt Augustin, Germany. Gusinde obtained a PhD in ethnology at the University of Vienna in 1926 and became one of the co-founders of the Anthropos Institut, which was located in Austria at that time, in 1931. Based on his field research, he published several works, but these contain relatively few photographs. Éditions Xavier Barral published the monograph Martin Gusinde. L’esprit des hommes de la terre de feu in 2015, in which this unique photographic oeuvre takes in a central position.