Retracing Heinrich Barth

The theme explored in Retracing Heinrich Barth (2006/2007), (supported by South East Arts and the University of Brighton) connects to my first degree in Anthropology and African Studies. Through this project, I “excavated” anecdotes relating to 19th century explorer Heinrich Barth, which have been presented in the form of an interactive web archive.

19th century German explorer Heinrich Barth was one of the first Europeans to recognise the significance and richness of African history and culture. Travelling under the Arabic name Abd el Kerim, he crossed the Sahara desert and over the Aïr mountains into Central Africa, recording his journey in the five volume Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa 1849-1855.

Inspired by this account and fired by tales of a mysterious room containing a trove of ancient artefacts connected to Barth’s expedition, I travelled to Niger. Retracing Barth’s footsteps and drawing on my interests in African studies, Anthropology, and Photography, I have interwoven a narrative based around encounters and impressions. Her artistic response features shifting viewpoints and addresses questions of identity and memory.

In addition I facilitated the participatory project Stories from Agadez: Life as it is now. This captures the experiences and images of eight African non-professional photographers, most of whom recorded their own lives for the first time through photography. The resulting images document the hardships and achievements of a local Tuareg and Hausa community. One of the photographers, Sarhid Hamadalher explains: “I have taken pictures of the life that people live here. I hope that these photos will make you discover the beauty of this country and the fantastic potential it holds. I like photography because it allows us to relive the past and it is also a great passion of life”.

Between April and June 2008, these two projects were exhibited side by side at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London.

PDF of Catalogue (text is German)

Retracing Heinrich Barth exhibition

17/4/08 – 21/6/08
Brunei Gallery, SOAS
Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square

The exhibition was supported by John Hollingworth and Joy Onyejiako (Gallery Office)

The exhibition featured an interactive digital space, contemporary photographs and historical artefacts on loan from the Royal Geographical Society, SOAS special collections and the State Archives, Hamburg.

An outreach and education programme, workshops and exhibition-related talks in association with the Centre for African Studies at SOAS created opportunities for gallery visitors, community groups and primary and secondary pupils to respond to work in the exhibition.

The project can be found here.

An exhibition catalogue includes commentaries by Dea Birkett (Royal Literary Fund Fellow, University of Brighton, and author of many travel books) and sociologist Prof Adrienne Chambon (University of Toronto).

Stories from Agadez: Life as it is now Community Project Wall

The events program included four Saturday workshops:

, a map workshop with Luce Choules, asked participants to document their visit to Agadez through the photographs and artefacts on display in the exhibition. Luce’s practice is linked to each journey, field trip or expedition she makes. Her cartographic editorials reveal found and hidden narratives and networks, central to the re-creation of place and time.

A second workshop by Megha Rajguru, explore MAPS create PLACES, asked participants to translate their experience of being in a place through maps. This workshop started with a short journey and freed the participants’ imagination to create their own imaginary place. Megha’s art is cross-disciplinary. It is two-dimensional in drawing and photography, three-dimensional in sculpture and installation and four-dimensional in film. Her artworks visually explore the relationship between people, objects and their surroundings. They become alive with meaning when placed in certain environments.

A third workshop, Photographic Journeys, was faciliated by Julia Winckler and University of Brighton BA Photography students. Participants were asked to translate their experience of the exhibition through photography. Working with digital cameras, they explored the immediate surroundings of the gallery to create their own photographic impressions of place and a response to the stories and people featured in the exhibition.

We also ran an education programme, facilitated by Anita Chowdry and SOAS student ambassadors.

There was an artist’s talk, with Julia and Adrienne Chambon, University of Toronto,  inside the Gallery, in which we discussed the exhibition and took visitors on a guided tour, focusing on the themes of visual archives, mapping and memory.

Four related talks took place.

Sociologist Thomas Knoll,  talked about A culture in transition – personal insights of a development worker in Agadez, Niger, former development worker with the German Development service in Niger 2003–2005.

Achim von Oppen, Professor of African History at the University of Bayreuth, talked about The painting and the pen. Approaches to Heinrich Barth and his African Heritage

Dr. Benedetta Rossi, discussed Niger: the paradoxes of chronic aidauthor of “The Paradox of Chronic Aid”. In Crombe, X and Jezequel, JH (eds), Niger 2005: A “Natural” Catastrophe? Columbia University Press.

Yvan Guichaoua, Research Officer at the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity at the University of Oxford described The Current Rebellion in Northern Niger: Causes, Context and Actors. He is the author of various articles and book chapters on Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.

All talks took place in association with the Centre for African Studies at SOAS