Nucleus of the Great Union

Exhibition : Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War

Commissioned by Haus Der Kulturen De Welt, Berlin

2017, Nov 03 — 2018, Jan 08

In the Summer of 1953, Richard Wright, the most renowned African-American novelist in the world, travelled to the African continent for the first time. For ten weeks, Wright travelled throughout the Gold Coast, where he witnessed Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party, West Africa’s first mass socialist party, as it campaigned for independence from British rule. In 1954, Wright published Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos, a text whose conceptual restlessness registered his existential alienation from the Gold Coast and challenged readers expecting a comforting ode to the consolations of racial belonging. Generations of intellectuals have journeyed from the United States to the new nation state of Ghana ever since; each of them compelled to confront the discomforting questions Wright asked of himself.

Despite the critical attention devoted to Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos, few of its readers realized that Wright shot over 1,500 photographs with his own professional grade camera on his journey throughout the Gold Coast. Wright intended Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos to be an ambitious photo-text in which images shared equal space with text. Wright’s publishers Harpers refused to publish the book with his carefully selected and captioned images. The negatives and paper prints of this still unseen photographic archive are now housed in the Special Collections at the Beinecke Library in Yale University; several hundred have recently been digitized.

The project provisionally entitled Through the Camera Sight returns to this archive to compose new links between its unseen images and its historical text in order to reconfigure both. By treating Wright as the photographic modernist he was, Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos is reimagined as an aesthetic of espionage assembled from still images and floating captions. The unease and the disquiet experienced by Wright in Ghana is reciprocated by the distrust and the distance of the CPP’s Pan-African Socialists. In a Global Cold War, the watchful eyes and the sullen stares, the unspoken suspicions and the undeclared affiliation speak of the tension and the trepidation of political transfer from the British empire to the Gold Coast colony to Ghana the postcolony.