Oct 19th 2022

The history of Polaroid films and cameras in Africa and the Black Diaspora is largely untold. To tell this story, I analyze how Black American and African photographers, including Lorna Simpson, Lyle Ashton Harris, Dawoud Bey, Kay Hassan, Zarina Bhimji, and Mohamed Bourouissa, incorporate Polaroids into their contemporary art practices. The artists presented have varying ideas about the role of color in photographic representation. Also, their respective artistic practices reveal understudied elements to the history of Polaroids in Africa and the Black Diaspora, including the ways Polaroids have revolutionized how Black people in the United States and Africa viewed themselves and how instant color photography profited literally from state surveillance. This idea of “Coloring Black Surveillance” seeks to introduce a framework that places the arts of Africa and the Black Diaspora into greater conversation with Black American art.

Presented by the Department of Art History at Northwestern University.


Drew Thompson is Associate Professor of Visual Culture and Black Studies at Bard Graduate Center. His teaching, writing, and curatorial practice focus on Black modernism, the history of photography in Africa, and Black American and African material culture. Currently, he is working on the book titled “Coloring Black Surveillance: The Story of Polaroid in Africa, the Anti-Apartheid Struggle, and Contemporary Art.” Also, he is curating with Sarah Eckhardt an exhibition on the printmaker Benjamin Wigfall, which is scheduled to open in September 2022 at The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art before traveling to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in April 2023.


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