Audio Visual Africa

Sometimes academic collaboration is serendipitous. In our new Humanities Collaboratory project, “Audio-Visual Africa,” four faculty from widely different intellectual traditions discovered, by accident of casual conversation, a shared passion for audiovisual media production as well as the past, present, and future of the archive in Africa.

Kwasi Ampene, ethnomusicologist, works on the audio and visual holdings of Manhyia Palace, seat of the Ashanti king in Ghana. Frieda Ekotto, philosophy and comparative literature, is archiving African photographic and cinematic creativity and cultural heritage, especially as produced by female artists in Cameroon, Algeria, and Ghana. Kelly Askew, anthropologist, and Paul Conway, archival scientist, have worked for years to acquire, organize, and digitize portions of the extensive Leo Sarkisian African Music Collection, which encompasses decades of radio broadcasts and live audio field recordings from ~40 African countries.

Why Africa? Because Africa, the source of all humanity—and, by extension, the humanities—is a continent always defined by change and innovation. Moreover, by the year 2100, Africans will constitute 40% of the world’s population. This makes it absolutely critical to reverse the relegation of African perspectives to the margins and resituate them as central to the humanities enterprise.

Why audio-visual materials? Because while Africa produced great libraries like those of Alexandria and Timbuktu, visual and audio media are equally privileged in Africa for translating experience, contesting inequity, and seeking inspiration. That said, African audio-visual collections are rare, are lacking in material resources and technological support, and have attracted little academic research.

We envision interrogating the ways in which communities have and continue to express and document their heritage and identities through the vast array of tangible and intangible forms and formats that make up the archive. Our project will challenge text-centric and Eurocentric biases in the humanities by exploring the scholarly potential latent in a local-community based orientation toward African audio-visual archives.