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Postcards from Africa: River Scene at Mangapani, Zanzibar

Sue Williamson
Postcards from Africa: River Scene at Mangapani, Zanzibar, 2018
Ink on Yupo synthetic archival paper and hand engraved museum glass
Frame: 62 x 48 x 3.5 cm

In the series Postcards from Africa, Sue Williamson turns her attention to vintage postcards of photographs taken by European colonizers in Africa in the first decades of the 20th century. Part of a global craze for postcards, these were sent out as examples which supposedly demonstrated the civilizing effect of colonisation on the colonised, or presented views of exotic Africa for the edification of the folks back home. Using museum archives or the internet to source the postcards, Williamson reverts to classic drawing technique, dipping her pens and brushes into bottles of ink to build up images with layers of intricate cross hatching and adding colour from a limited palette. In each drawing, signs of habitation remain visible —dwellings, boats, a pile of coconuts — but the people who appeared on the original postcard no longer appear. The absence of the people from the landscape presents an uncomfortable tension from which a series of questions emerge — where are the people who used to live here? What happened to them? These questions point to the complexity of subverting the colonial gaze —how does one challenge the gaze while also taking care not to perpetuate violence through recirculation of images that re- invoke their original racist and oppressive context?