I wish there was colour, I wish there was sound – Visual conversations in and on Africa

Nederlands Fotomuseum - Rotterdam | May, 2024

A walk through an exhibition that presents selected outcomes of a long term research project that activates the photographic legacy of Dutch author, storyteller and biological anthropologist Paul Julien (1901-2001). The activations are undertaking in collective ways and aim to develop strategies to learn about the past as well as to subvert its cultural violence in a future oriented way.

Below you find the general exhibition text.
The texts that accompany elements of the show can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Paul Julien (1901-2001) made fifteen journeys through the part of Africa where the equator runs through the continent from west to east between 1932 and 1962. The pictures he produced are remarkable because of their quantity and consistent photographic quality. Julien photographed and filmed at a time when colonial governments and Christian missionaries were the dominant powers in most parts of the continent. His images are extraordinary in their multiplicity and consistent photographic quality. At the same time, they are problematic. The one-sided imagination of Africa, of which Paul Julien’s work is a part, continues to have a negative impact on the lives of people on the continent and its diaspora. 

He collected data in the name of science by, for example, measuring body characteristics and taking blood samples. Racist methods, which had originated in the eighteenth century and were used by Western European researchers during the colonization of Africa. After Paul Julien’s death, his photographic legacy and documentation was transferred to the Nederlands Fotomuseum. 

Since 2012, artist and researcher Andrea Stultiens has been activating this legacy in various ways. Such as through ‘rephotography’ and “collective making” in collaboration with members of communities photographed by Paul Julien. In doing so, she provides space for valuable encounters, interactions, perspectives and collaborations. In doing so, she contributes to the understanding of twentieth-century images of Africa and the ways in which this permeates the present. These activations provide insight into the different values an archive can have. From recognition and appreciation of descendants to starting points for new research and historiography.

The Nederlands Fotomuseum believes that it is important to invite researchers, curators and artists to provide opportunities for visitors to connect the museum’s rich Collection to the present. History reveals its nuances through these connections, helping to stimulate a critical relationship between audiences and the Collection. This is especially important in cases where there might be friction between certain pictures and current debates.

This exhibition invites you to consider the ways in which you think through the multiple perspectives presented on its platforms, and to reflect on the ways you relate to the ongoing debate regarding the decolonization of museums. 

The Nederlands Fotomuseum also collaborated with Andrea Stultiens to develop a book with the same title as this exhibition, which is on display in the exhibition and for sale in the Museum shop.

In the exhibition three brief conversations provide context for what is on show. They can also be seen through the following links:
Kemurl Fofanah & me
Sammy Baloji & Filip de Boeck
Guinevere Ras-Marchena & Valeria Posada-Villada

On the occasion of the exhibition a book with almost the same title was published. The content of book and exhibition overlap, but are different thanks to the particular affordances of presenting photographs (and derivates thereof) in spaces and on the pages of a book.
The book can be acquired at the exhibition, through the publisher Jap Sam Books, or your local bookshop using its ISBN 978-94-93329-17-1

Most of the installation photographs by: Aad Hoogendoorn, some by me.
Most of the photographs with audience by Roger Anis, some by Will Boase or me.