Past Event

African Photography: The Ethics of Looking and Collecting in the Age of Restitution

November 11, 2022
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
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Webinar symposium (online)

To see the 6 videos from the day-long event, go to the complete playlist (at or see the video frame here below.

Since the 1990s, exhibitions of African photographers such as Seydou Keïta have raised questions about the relationship of ownership to authorship, visibility to privacy. Concerns about the ethics of looking and collecting have grown more urgent with recent debates about the restitution of African cultural heritage.

This online symposium draws together scholars, artists, and curators who explore the ethics of working with photographs and methods to decolonize the medium, and its histories.

What rights do photographers have? In today's age of hypervisibility, can sitters claim their “right to opacity,” to use Édouard Glissant's term? What is the future of collecting and curating photographs that originate in family and colonial archives on the continent? Can viewers embody “the active struggle of looking with,” in Tina Campt’s words—rather than observe passively—and can this engender new ways of seeing? 


Sandrine Colard (Rutgers University–Newark)
Osaisonor Godfrey Ekhator-Obogie (Institute for Benin Studies)
Patricia Hayes (University of the Western Cape)
Candace Keller (Michigan State University)
Lebohang Kganye (Visual artist and photographer)
Ingrid Masondo (Iziko South African National Gallery)
Steven Nelson (National Gallery of Art)
Giulia Paoletti (University of Virginia)
John Peffer (Ramapo College of New Jersey)
Z.S. Strother (Columbia University)

Keynote Temi Odumosu (University of Washington)

Welcome David Freedberg (Columbia University) and Douglas Fordham (University of Virginia)

Concluding Remarks Steven Nelson (National Gallery of Art)

Organized by
Z.S. Strother (Columbia University) and Giulia Paoletti (University of Virginia) 

Presented by
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University
Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Department of Art, University of Virginia

With the generous support of
Buckner W. Clay Endowment for the Humanities, University of Virginia
Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, University of Virginia
UVA Arts & the Office of the Provost & the Vice Provost for the Arts
The Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia
The Institute of African Studies, Columbia University
The Department of African American & African Diaspora Studies, Columbia University
Photography Network    

And with a grant from
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Image: Self-Portrait of Macky Kane and Fatou Thioune, Saint Louis (Senegal), 1941, scan from gelatin negative, 9x13cm. Courtesy of Linguere Fatou Fall and Revue Noire.

Click here for the full program