Voicing silences in the colonial archive

Focusing on the physical type photographic portraits made by the Government Anthropologist, Northcote Thomas, in West Africa in the early 20th century, this presentation by Paul Basu discusses some of the [Re:]Entanglements project’s filmic interventions that address the ‘absent voices’ and ‘silences’ in the colonial anthropological archive.

The talk was a contribution to the ‘Colonial Film Archives: Interrogations and Interventions‘ panel at the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Ethnographic Film Festival Conference held in March 2021. The broad theme of the conference was ‘Creative Engagement with Crisis’.

Among various issues, Paul Basu discusses silences in the colonial archive as both a violence and an act of resistance. Drawing on the work of Tina Campt in Listening to Images, he questions whether the Thomas’s photographic portraits are indeed silent, and discusses various approaches to ‘voicing’ these photographs, including using photo elicitation methods, inviting people to voice what the photographs ‘say’ to them, and using storytelling to speculate on what Thomas’s subjects may have had to say.

Reference is made to the [Re:]Entanglements project films Faces|Voices and Unspoken Stories.

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