Theorising image
A relational approach
in Images of Africa
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This chapter explores theoretical bases of image. For Achille Mbembe, the image is a conduit for outsiders’ fantasies; and yet the image can project power onto the self. For Jean-Francois Bayart, the self creates a false image to project onto the world, but the image ends up shaping the self, often in unexpected ways. Building on these insights, the author suggests that image acts like a contact plate between inner self and the outer observer, the platform on which each negotiates itself in relation to the other. The image is not a passive site of negotiation: once created, it profoundly affects both inner self and outer observer. The chapter explores these ideas by looking at Wole Shonibare’s sculpture, ‘Scramble for Africa’, a life-size depiction of the 1885 Berlin Conference which divided the continent up between the European powers. The sculpture’s headless figures, dressed in Victorian frock-coats made of apparently traditional African prints, challenge and undermine images of Europeans, Africans, and the relationship between them, played out on the map of the continent.

Images of Africa

Creation, negotiation and subversion

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