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Les Archives Suédoises: a collaborative enquiry into a hidden colonial photographic archive
University of Arts, Crafts and Design, Institutionen för Konst (K).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3004-2813
2018 (English)In: Archives in Postcolonial conditions, Nicosia, 2018Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Other academic) [Artistic work]
Abstract [en]

Les Archives Suédoises – a collaborative enquiry into a hidden colonial photographic archive

The presentation will explore how the art project Les Archives Suédoises has explored a neglected part of both Swedish and Congolese history by re-contextualising and reworking a hidden and dispersed photographic archive, consisting of historical glass-plate negatives photographed by Swedish missionaries in the Congo 1890 – 1930.

During the second half on the 19th century, an evangelical revival spread in Sweden. The new parishes that emerged had a deep concern for missions, and any member of the congregation could be called. Inspired by Stanley’s travels in the Congo, the church started sending missionaries to the area in the 1880’s, and Sweden was soon one of the major active nations.

The missionaries brought camera equipment, and the resulting photographs were used as a medium for enticing the home parishes to donate funds. It is clear that the missionary-photographers consciously arranged the images to fit into a predestined narrative about their role as saviour, and depicted the local people as ’other’, alienating and exoticising them in the process.  Back home missionary lantern-lectures visited chapels, schools and churches up until the sixties. For many Swedes this was their first encounter with Africa, and the images have thus had a profound influence of how Africa was imagined in Sweden.

In the Congo DR on the other hand, not many photographs from the historical period remain, since the colonizers controlled the technology, and the tropical climate and political turbulence has destroyed what was left. The missionaries were also very much part of a process whereby they documented the existing culture in the places where they settled down – then set out to do their very best to change, or even destroy it, as part of the Christianisation.

How can we confront these types of images today, from a Swedish perspective, where there is great reluctance to look at this part of our history? And from a Congolese perspectives, where the images both bear witness to the suffering of the people living through the brutal colonization, and depict old village life and traditions? Gaining access to glass-plate negatives through the heirs of the missionary-photographers, we embarked on a collaborative enquiry with Congolese sculptor Freddy Tsimba, whose father went to a Swedish missionary school. A series of site-specific installations in Sweden and in the Congo were created in response to the archive, attempting to look beyond our own context-specific histories and addressing the traumatic memory left in both nations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Nicosia, 2018.
Keywords [en]
Arkiv, postkoloniala processer, fotografi
National Category
Arts
Research subject
Arts
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:konstfack:diva-6603OAI: oai:DiVA.org:konstfack-6603DiVA, id: diva2:1265720
Conference
5th International Conference of Photography and Theory ICPT2018, Photographies and conflict, Archiving & Consuming images of strife, 22-24 November 2018 Famagusta Gate, Nicosia, Cyprus
Available from: 2018-11-26 Created: 2018-11-26 Last updated: 2018-11-26Bibliographically approved

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