Kerstin Hacker, Course Leader in Photography with the Cambridge School of Art, leads this seminar around identity, linked to her Generation Z exhibition, running from the 2 October to 21 December 2018 at the Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge
Zambia is presented to the UK through prevailing visual narratives of Africa’s population growth, epidemics and poverty. This continual overexposure to similar images creates a familiarity with a visual narrative which doesn’t get questioned and often feeding into a narrative of ‘Afro-pessimism’. Everyday life, however, as experienced by Zambia’s growing affluent middle class in its urban centers, could not be further from these preconceived images.
I have been photographing the series Generation Z in Zambia’s capital Lusaka since 2016, and am documenting the rapidly developing city. It is critical that new photographic work contributes to displacing the visual stereotypes and asks the viewers to contemplate the development processes of a country. In my series Generation Z, I attempt to combine the acknowledgement of my own Western visual heritage with the experience of extended stays in Lusaka.
I ask viewers to contemplate change in Zambia and dismantle neocolonial visual discourses. I contend that it is important not to return to the limited visual research material available, and to not use outdated reference material from the ‘colonial libraries’, as that in itself would not acknowledge the ‘uncited’ recent developments. The lack of research about photographic image production in Zambia in itself does not mean that there was no image production. As this research still has to be done, we still might find new icons of African photography. There is therefore a need to invest in national photographic institutions, which are able to build the foundations for a discourse about Zambia’s visual self-governance.
Visual self-governance contributes to how we see the relations between citizens and governments, and how this relationship is understood both by its citizens and outside observers. Currently much visual material depicting low income countries evokes colonial narratives. Nevertheless, the photography and visual arts more generally have the capacity to contradict or reject colonial, post-colonial and neo-colonial narratives and artistic practices are often influenced by local and national narratives. The ability for citizens to define and challenge pervasive colonial narratives through self-governing the image will allow for a diverse and current representation of the self and will influence how audiences see the citizens and the country.