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Responses to Acebes Art Exhibition

Engaging The Camera: African Women, Portraits
and the Photographs of Hector Acebes
Compiled by Azuka Nzegwu
Part 2: Acebes Other Show


* The commentaries were not edited. They appear in their original form.

More commentaries will be added soon.

 




Dr. Lynn Gamwell's position on the Acebes exhibition (Director of the Art Museum)

Date: October 19, 2006

Thank you very much for your fruitful discussion with me regarding the current Museum exhibition. My objective in bringing this traveling exhibition to campus was to showcase a newly-discovered archive of photographs taken in Africa during the colonialist era by the Columbian photographer Hector Acebes, and, more generally, to provide an opportunity for students and the community to become more educated about the historical context in which the pictures were taken.

The reason that I scheduled an exhibit on an African theme was to correspond with the performance of African music at the Anderson Center, and I worked with the Center's director, Floyd Herzog, on this joint program. Of the many traveling exhibits that cross my desk, I selected this one because of the high quality of the photographs, the narrative framework for the pictures provided by the co-curators, who have excellent scholarly reputations, as well as the fine reputation of the organizing institution. Secondary but important considerations were also the fine reputation in the Museum world of the catalogue producer and Acebes archivist, as well as practical matters such as the rental fee being within my budget and the exhibit's availability for the time slot I needed. I am very sorry that I have offended African students by displaying this exhibition.

As we discussed, although the co-curators frame the pictures by stating their historical context in the exhibition scripting (the wall text and the catalogue), the framing of the pictures could be enriched and strengthened by additional text describing African cultures. If I (or a Museum staff member) organize an exhibit (such as the current exhibit of Sigmund Freud's neurological drawings and diagrams of the mind, which I curated), then I (or the relevant staff) give these guided tours. But in the case of a traveling exhibit such as this, we lack the expertise. Thus I very much welcome your suggestion of providing student volunteers from your organization who would act as Museum guides, giving walking tours to visitors. I think this would very much help achieve my goals, and I would be very grateful for this help.

I look forward to working with you further on the organization of the forum on Nov. 9th, 6-8pm, to discuss the issues raised by the exhibit. Also, I am enthusiastic about pursuing Professor Mazrui's suggestion of a conference in the near future to put the debate in a broader intellectual context.

Again, I appreciated your speaking with me. I welcome your views and those of any graduate students in African Studies.

Lynn Gamwell


 

Professor Nkiru Nzegwu

Date: October 3, 2006

Dear Dr. Gamwell,

It is with shock and disappointment that I viewed the Acebes exhibition curated by Andrea Barnwell, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, and Isolde Brielmaier, visiting assistant professor of art at Vassar College. I was also disappointed to read your response to Professor Okpewho's criticisms.

As you are aware, Brielmaier and her collaborator Ed Marquand, director of the Hector Acebes Archive, jointly published the book titled Hector Acebes: Portraits in Africa, 1948-1953 (2004) that is the basis of the current exhibition. You could say that the seed of this exhibition was conceptualized by the Hector Acebes Archive while Brielmaier is its front woman. I am not privy to how Brielmaier convinced Barnwell to collaborate on the project. Nor, can I speculate as to why Barnwell deployed Spelman College's limited exhibition budget on voyeuristic images of this white male photographer. Perhaps, she was focusing on the aesthetics of the photographs and completely missed their sexist and racist content! Still, it is difficult to imagine how anyone in this day and age of advanced scholarship on Africa, can believe that these images are invaluable resources for scholars of African culture, or that they are appropriate for a black college like Spelman. Whatever their rationale, the fact that these two curators are African American women does not imply that their exhibition cannot devalue Africa. What is inexcusable and exceedingly problematic is that you appealed to the curators' race to justify your poor judgment in accepting an offensive exhibition for Binghamton University.

Anyone who has been attentive to art historical analyses in the last twenty years knows the extensive discourses that have taken place in art history and museum studies on power and difference in photographic representation. Suffice it to say that this knowledge has informed much of the theoretical work of Binghamton University faculty, and should have alerted you that the Acebes exhibition would encounter problems in a research institution like ours where faculty is critically engaged. Publications such as Marianna Torgovnick's Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (1990), Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collinss Reading National Geographic (1993), Sander L. Gilman's "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteen-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature" (1986), and many others, have probed the ideological framework of images produced during the era of colonialism. Some members of Binghamton University faculty have taught courses on the subject; and many more have published articles and books that exposed the specious nature of myths that reinforce condescending views of Africa and African people.

The Acebes exhibition is about the most offensive exhibition that the University Museum has displayed in my sixteen years of teaching aesthetics, art history and Africana Studies at this university. It is unclear why, of all the available exhibitions on African art and culture, you chose to receive the Acebes exhibition. Over the years, various mid-size university museums and galleries--notably, Yale, Fowler Museum-UCLA, Iowa, and Newark Museum--have curated far superior educational exhibitions on African art that the University Museum could have hosted, but you never showed any inclination to receive them. Let me add that these exhibitions were curated by scholars with many years of research experience in the field of African art, and that they approached their projects with immense cultural sensitivity and a keen sense of intellectual responsibility. Moreover, it is not as if Binghamton University lacks competent resources in the curation of African art and culture. I, for one, have organized exhibitions at spaces that are more prestigious than our university museum, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario (the 8th largest gallery in North America), The Power Plant: A Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto (the Canadian equivalent of, but much larger than The New Museum in New York), and Mitchell Museum-Cedarhurst, Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Although I had approached you in the past on the possibility of curating exhibitions of contemporary African art and African American art, I never received any support from your office.

I am aware of the ways the university administration has endeavored to create a wholesome multicultural community and to stand up for cultural sensitivity. African women on this campus expect to be accorded the same sort of treatment that is extended to others; nothing more, nothing less. You may want to argue that these photographs are the perfect accompaniment to your show on Freud, and to Freud's neurological and psychological theories, but that argument is defective. It ignores the larger ethical question of the exploitative framework, relations of dominance, and relations of inequality underlying the photographing of these men and women. The dignity of African women on this campus should not be sacrificed on the altar of voyeurism. Anyone who is familiar with the history of colonialism in Africa would know that the individuals in these pictures were not the empowered figures the curators glibly proclaimed them to be. In fact, the only way one can attribute power to them is to roundly falsify history and to deliberately misrepresent the power of white males during Africa's colonial era.

Binghamton University's mission statement and strategic plan eloquently underscores the importance of scholarship and research to the university community. I do not believe that the university is interested in underwriting projects that reinforce and perpetuate negative stereotypes of any members of its community. The administration's principled stand undercuts any slick argument that these images are not about the African women on campus since you are yet to curate or host an exhibition that positively addresses Africa, its art, culture, or its women. As faculty who are very much concerned with excellence in teaching and research, we cannot accept poorly conceived exhibitions, and we cannot stand by idly and have them foisted on our students. No segment of the university should be forced to bring out placards and bullhorns in order to be treated with respect. I welcome and support Professor Okpewho's recommendation that you should close down this exhibition, immediately.

Nkiru Nzegwu
Professor of Africana Studies and Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture


 

Lynn Gamwell

Date: October 5, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

I have received requests from Faculty members of the Department of African Studies that I close the Museums? current exhibition, Engaging the Camera: African Women, Portraits and the Photographs of Hector Acebes? because they object to the content of the exhibition. Their views are valid points within an important scholarly debate. The curators of the exhibition are also scholars with different points of view. In the spirit of open discussion of intellectual differences at a University I have invited the two curators of the exhibition to come to campus and discuss the photographs and their historical context. I am happy to report that the co-curators, Andrea Barnswell of the Spellman College Museum of Art and Isolde Brielmaier of Vassar College have enthusiastically accepted my invitation and they are looking forward to this public discussion of the work being shown here. The time and place of the event will be announced in the coming days. I hope that you will attend, express your opinion, and hear all sides of the important issues raised by these pictures.

Lynn Gamwell, Director
University Art Museum

 

 

Azuka Nzegwu

Date: October 6, 2006

Dear Dr. Gamwell,

I was taken aback at the "Art Exhibition" and the denigration of African women that the University Museum is engaged in, and which it passed off as an "intellectual and artistic" endeavor. It is most reprehensible that this is occurring in a museum of a research university. What is the research and scholarly objective in displaying naked African women whose photographs were probably taken without their consent during the colonial era? Professor Okpewho's point remains pertinent here. Would you have the audacity to showcase similar images of people of other cultures?

I received an email from B-Line today about the graffiti incidents on campus. In this email, the student responsible for the "art" is no longer enrolled or resides on campus. While we praise the university administration for its decisive action in halting this racist "artwork," the university museum failed African students and faculty on this campus by promoting racist images of African women. It would seem that the University is definitely working at cross-purposes: one of its arm has no tolerance for racist "artworks" (the graffiti art), and another of its arm has a high level of tolerance for racist "artworks" (the Acebes exhibition).

The message being communicated to all and sundry is that not all racist actions are punishable: some can be rationalized as "intellectual" activity. Are we to deduce that the university administration's lack of response to the letters by faculty is an indication that its claims about diversity and multiculturalism disappears when it comes to matters relating to Africa and its people? To put it more bluntly, why is one form of racism more acceptable than another? Or, is the administration trying to communicate to African students and professors that they believe the degradation of Africa, its culture, and people, is justifiable?

As the director of a university museum, your decision to accept such an exhibition is very problematic to say the least. It is beside the point whether or not the curators are African-Americans. What is relevant is your decision to host this exhibition. At the very least, your failure to see the problems of the exhibition illustrates the type of mindset that still defines America's perception of Africa. The basis of this perception is the denial of intellectual worth of Africans, which is accomplished by deploying the sort of offensive images in this exhibition. What do you hope to accomplish by inviting and funding these curators to come to Binghamton University? To see Black folks duking it out in public?

In concluding, what university administration officials seem to ignore is that these depictions of Africans have far reaching implications. They reinforce stereotypes and they encourage the racial violence of the sort practiced by the graffiti "art" student. Also, they condition certain groups of students to privilege themselves over African students, and they reinforce these students misguided opinion that African students are inferior. In other words, the university is pitting one group of student against another. By failing to speak out on this matter, the university administration should be aware that it is becoming a party to the racial alienation of African students on this campus.

Azuka Nzegwu
PIC, Doctoral Student


 

Lynn Gamwell

Date: October 12, 2006

An email announcement from Dr. Gamwell.

Save the Date
Nov. 9th, 6-8pm

Andrea D. Barnwell, Director of the Museum of Art of Spelman College in Atlanta, and Isolde Brielmaier, of Vassar College will speak about issues of race and gender raised by the exhibition that they co-curated "Engaging the Camera: African Women, Portraits and the Photographs of Hector Acebes" which is currently on view in the Binghamton University Art Museum. Their presentation will be followed by a discussion with the audience; please plan to come and join the discussion.

Location to be announced.

 

 

Besi Muhonja's response to Dr. Gamwell

Date: October 12, 2006

First in reference to your message below, I take offense to your titling this message "Discussion of African photos".

I have read a number of the emails concerning this matter. I am concerned Dr. Gamwell (as a member of this community, as an AFRICAN WOMAN, and someone whose area of research focusses on issues related to addressing the story of African women) by the demonstrated lack of sensitivity and seeming reluctance to even acknowledge (with the univerity museum taking some responsibility for the exhibition being on this campus - Am I mistaken in believing that the exhibition and its curators require an invitation to be present on campus? ) that there is a part of this university's community that are very deeply and very personally angered, hurt and that feel abused by this exhibition. Is there a chance that at some point, such acknowledgement and corresponding action of some form will be forthcoming? (Not an intellectual discussion - the point being that this goes way beyond "intellectual")

Thank you,
Besi Muhonja
PhD student.

 

 

Professor Jeffner Allen

Date: October 12, 2006

Dear Dr. Gamwell,

The Acebes exhibition first came to my attention when a student in my undergraduate course asked to announce the show. The student’s announcement was indistinguishable in content from that of narratives recorded by European colonials, which made it necessary to take class time to analyze the news item in the context of the previous week’s readings dealing with colonialism and photography of, and by, women of Iran, Pakistan, and Tunesia. Little could I have imagined, at that moment, that the inaccurate conceptual and aesthetic material in the student’s announcement was generated directly by the Acebes Exhibition itself! While searching in the Pipe Dream for the exhibit hours, I read in the September 15 issue that the exhibit was organized “with the mission to present African women of the Diaspora.” I wondered what it might mean “to present” African women of the Diaspora in the small space of the Binghamton art museum and whether the task of the curator ought not be distinguished from that of unproblematized “presentation.”

Now that I have had the opportunity to view “Engaging the Camera: African Women, Portraits and the Photographs of Hector Acebes,” I am astonished that the exhibit was invited to the art museum at Binghamton University. Surely the funds invested in bringing the exhibit to campus could have been invested in making available to students and to the Binghamton community a substantial, educational, noteworthy, and up-to-date exhibition. If a primary goal of the exhibit was to increase student awareness of photography by African women, a showing with that aim could have been sought. If a major aim of the exhibit was to expose students to colonial perspectives, a photography exhibit that expressly engages such material could have been found, etc. I find it a great misfortune that the current exhibit perpetuates a racist, colonializing gaze, nativist frameworks, and ignorance of the political and economic problematics of African women positioned before the lens of travelers and explorers such as Acebes.

The utilization of additional funds to bring to campus the curators of the show, so that they can discuss with each other the show that they have jointly produced, followed by taking questions from listeners magnifies, without resolving, the scholarly issues and the campus issues that are involved. The title of your message, “Discussion of African photos,” renders invisible the dynamic role played by the university museum and its leadership play, the several roles of the host campus and of its students, and the substantial number of issues, which are not new, that pertain to the photo show. I believe that you, as Director of the campus museum, are in the position to take steps to change the current situation.


Sincerely,
Jeffner Allen
Professor of Philosophy, of Philosophy, Interpretation, Culture, and of Women's Studies

 

 

Professor Ali. Mazrui

Date: October 12, 2006

Dr. Lynn Gamwell
Art Museum
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY

Dear Dr. Lynn Gamwell:

I am not sure whether to be offended by the substance of the Hector Acebes exhibition or by the fact that the Africana Studies Department was not consulted at all -- especially at a time when the Co-chairs of the Department (Professor Nkiru Nzegwu and Professor Isidore Okpewho) are experts on different aspects of African art. Since a display of photographs of nude African women was bound to be offensive to many Africans, that failure to consult the Africana Department was an affront.

But let us now attempt damage control. A symposium of the kind proposed by Lynn Gamwell would be sensible if it was accompanied by the gesture of reducing the duration of the exhibition by one week. The symposium of November 9, 2006, could be the concluding event which would bring the exhibition to a close. The reduction of one week would be a good will gesture to the Africanist community on campus and in the city.

I would also suggest that the event of November 9 be the first of two symposia. The second one should be in the Spring on the broader theme of "NUDITY AND ART: COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES". We could go global -- and include Roman and Greek sculpture, nudity in Indian art, nudity in African sculpture -- as well as the more objectionable colonial legacy which mistakenly equated African cultural nudity with primitive nakedness.

I have one more suggestion for the event of November 9, 2006. We do have on this campus one or two colleagues who come from the African cultures represented in Hector Acebes' exhibition. In other words, they come from those particular African cultures which minimize the need for clothes in the tropics. Those cultures still exist in Africa, though they are a small part of the African population. These are cultures which are often misunderstood and not respected enough. I can recommend to Dr. Lynn Gamwell one such speaker on campus (a Maasai,) if the colleague would agree to speak on November 9, 2006.

The whole purpose would not be to score points or engage in hostile exchanges, but to help forge better guidelines for the future and help understand other cultures better.

Yours sincerely,

Ali A. Mazrui, D.Phil. (Oxon), C.B.S.
Director
Institute of Global Cultural Studies
Binghamton University, SUNY
P.O. Box 6000
Binghamton, New York 13902-6000
Phone: (607) 777-4494
Fax: (607) 777-2642
email: amazrui@binghamton.edu
Website: http://igcs.binghamton.edu
AAM/h

 

 

Lynn Gamwell

Date: October 13, 2006

Dr. Gamwell's response to Besi Muhonja

Ms. Besi Muhonja,

As director of the Art Museum, I have attempted over the years to make the Museum a place that was not only interesting intellectuallly but a place where all people, especially students, would feel welcome and comfortable. So I am very sorry that I have offended you by hosting this traveling exhibition that includes the topic of African women.

Sincerely yours,
Lynn Gamwell

 

 

Besi Muhonja's response to Dr. Gamwell

Date: October 13, 2006

I appreciate your apology Dr. Gamwell and I honestly thank you for it. I however would just like to mention that I was not looking for an apology for me. There have been issues raised and observations made on this matter by a lot of other people on this and on other fora. (reference emails below). I am still looking forward to the responses to these in one way or another from the university\museum and I guess also from the curators when they get here.

I am also looking forward to the response to suggestions made by Professor Mazrui..

Once again, thank you.

Besi Muhonja
PhD student
PIC

 

 

Nasser Malit

Date: October 13, 2006

Dear All,

My own thoughts. Is it possible to get some clear cut exploration or explanation to us who lack a clear perspective on the problem with the exhibit? I believe there are some people from Africa in my position. I do not want to take the activist perspective on this matter, because l do not see the course for activism. I hope you will respect my position. A more formal academic dialogue between us and the people "misrepresenting" Africa may be welcome to me. I also think we should not limit the discussion on the pictures to just four potraits with nudity, but the entire Acebes collections. Well, l believe there was a clear power relationship between the photographer and his "objects" but this is probably seen in all colonial era activities. We should also be cautious if we talk from the perspective of privilaged Africans who have cloths, not taking into account those of us back home who have no clothings or just dress scantily with no shame. I think there is nothing wrong with their nudity. My present field expeditions in part of Kenya and Ethiopia take me to areas where scanty or no clothings are still the norm. This does not make me disrespect the groups of people in this cultural state. When l was growing up in the senventies in rural Kenya, I had cloths because my father worked in the city. My cousins where still wearing shirts with no short or going naked. My grandmothers only had loin cloths or "mini" skirts. I saw there chest everyday of my childhood before they went to rest. This has not made me grow up a sexual pervert. To let you know, l was also a friend of my grandmother who preferred to stay with me so l dont get spoilt in the city. We used to grind flour using grinding stone, all in a circular mad hut...

Well, you may understand why l am reserved about the uproar on nudity. I am only in my thirties and l guess some of the older forks may even have more remote experiences. This brings me to the question of privilage. Whom are we fighting for? Our privilaged lot or the unprivilaged sisters and brothers out there, who still live in those conditions? Is this just academic activism? If you ask me another time, l will tell you that both African and American men do not need to see nude girls of 1940s and 50s for sexual gratification. Americans sexualize the breast, we know that, but there is enough of them out here. The internet is another ready source. If you want to know further, they like them big. Thats why breast aurgmentation (sp) is a big industry in this country. I therefore think the breast of those adolescent girls in the exhibit should not be considered for extreme voyuarism. That is trivializing the matter. We have an opportunity here to learn more about colonial discourses and we should urge those involved in the exhibit to exercise some caution, surely they need a disclaimer on the context of the exhibit to avert scenarios like what we are going through at the moment. If they did not do a good job in outlining the true context of the exhibit then we can send a strongly worded statement. We should, however, at the back of our minds know where we come from and our own history. We should not say we did not pass through this nudity stage in some groups whatsoever!

Nasser
Anthropology Dept.

 

 

Besi Muhonja's response to Nasser

Date: October 14, 2006

Nasser,

I am actually happy that you raise this on the listserve. It is a part of the discussion we had to go through at yesterdays meeting of the Interdisciplinary Study Group on Africa (we missed you there yesterday bro) - and (referencing Adeolu's letter) decided we needed to put a lot of focus on the academic questions arising and therefore (once again referencing Ade's email), we are moving ahead along those lines - Personally am interested in the issues of agency of the women in a colonial reality as participants in the narration of their story and the attendant discourses that arise.

The study group is therefore looking at a lot of angles. It is not so much a question of activism with the delivery of thoughts to the administration as it is about establishing there is solidarity of thought among a group of people who believe that there is an issue to be addressed (whatever that issue is for the individual). At least this is my understanding of it.

There are also I believe people who have already taken the time to hold discussions with the director of the museum (I was back at the museum yesterday and though I did not find the director, I had conversations with whoever was there) and I know too that Adeolu is delivering a personal long message - addressing specifically the academic and intellectual issues of the exhibition to the president of the university. And the meeting yesterday also debated the question you suggested of having an alternative intellectual discussion on the issue. Once again, just my personal impressions from the meeting.

Blessings all,
Besi
Binghamton, New York.

 

 

Besi Muhonja's response to Nasser

Date: October 14, 2006

Just an addition - It was also agreed at the meeting of the study group that we should proceed on this question not purely as an "African issue" - because first the issues we were raising could not be addressed as such and also because we would be invoking the same "racist and exclusionary" stance that some are uncomfortable with about this situation.

Good day people.

Besi
Binghamton, New York.

 

 

Adeolu Ademoyo

Date: October 14, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank Nasser for his views on the Acebes Exhibition. Also , I want to say that I saw the exhibition on or about October 3 or some days before then. I was in the exhibition hall for about 2 hours 30 minutes. I held a 1 hour 30 minures discussion with Dr. Gamwell , the director and her assistant. I think I also saw Moussa , one of our dear colleagues the same day I visited. I left the exhibition hall after two and a half hours of copious notes I took on the exhibition. I think I took my notes in the hall for about an hour after which I held my conversation with Dr. Gamwell, the director and her assistant for about 90 minutes. Thereafter, I took the decision to write a personal letter to the president of our university, Binghamton University.

I apologise for the delay in sending my letter. I delayed because for two weeks I have constantly turned in my mind the delibitating violation, aggression, and assault on knowledge and public reason which the exhibition represents. I wanted to be sure that I will be able to defend EVERY statement and word in my letter to the president. The letter is almost complete, and I will make it known to colleagues while I personally deliver the letter in paper form to the president of the university. I will also give the president of the university an electronic copy while making a paper copy available to her.

This is a short mail. I am not responding to ANY of the pertinent critical issues raised by our dear colleague and brother Nasser. I will. And I will do so comprehensively shortly. Again, I thank Nasser for his intervention.

Peace profound now and always.
adeolu ademoyo.


 

Adeolu Ademoyo's response to Nasser

Date: October 14, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

It is my hope that this meets you well. The following is my response to Nasser's mail. Thinking aloud I am trying to look at the best way to respond especially given that some of the issues seem obvious to me. I then wondered why they are not obvious to Nasser. Given (i) that they are not obvious to Nasser, and given (ii)the nature of the issue and the environment we live in , the email may not be the best medium to express some of our different ways of looking at the issues, that is the email may not be as private as we think to be able to collate our different views carefully and given,,(iii) the history of slavery and colonialism I will NEVER express my disagreement with another black person (African, African American, African carribean) in the open before a source I think is the cause of an issue we are trying to understand, I will therefore tread the cautious path and say the following.

1. On The Question That we need Proper Clarification of the issues- This is true. So what is the issue? Racist Colonial and neo-colonial scholarship of the Hollywood type in order to further their hegemony and disparage the race claimed wrongly that Africans are naked peoples. The exhibition claims it is critquing it. The exhibition does not maintain a critical distance from that claim. What does it do.?It presents the same images Hollywood scholarship presents. Therefore it endorses it in a most subtle and sophisticated manner. My long mail explains this theoretical issue and other deeper theoretical issues about the exhibition.

2. On the quantitative implication of the number of nude images. I will answer in two ways. First even if it is one , and it does not promote knowledge and truth of the subject, it is correct and a mark of honor to object to it. So it is about the truth of the knowledge being hawked by the exhibition and the implication it has for a race and people that are survivors of slavery and colonialism. A good analogy to draw is the crime of rape. A rapist is not justified to rape or free of guilt even if he raped his survivor once. Since rape is a process that leads to eventual and actual rape, a potential rapist is guilty the very moment he starts the process of sexual harassment and the application of force on his subject. So the number of times he actually raped is insignificant before reason and the moral law . Second, and this is painful for me to say. I was there at the exhibition hall. Another colleague of ours Moussa saw me. I spent 2 hours. 30 minutes. I spent 1 hour taking my notes and counting the number of denigrating nude pictures. I spent 1 hour. 30minutes with the director of the museum. I do not know when Nasser visited the exhibition Hall. It is possible some of the images have been removed by the time he was there. It may also be that he went there before me and when he was there there were few nude pictures , and after he left the director decided to increase the number at the time I visited. The number of nude photographs displayed on October 3, 2006 when I visted are 10. The total number of photographs displayed are 42. This means 25% of the total number of photographs is nude on October 3, 2006. I say it is painful for me to say because Nasser's claim that there are just 4 nude photos is problematic against the background of the number I counted on october 3, 2006. Either my number is faulty or Nasser's number is faulty. The two cannot be both right

3. On Nasser's personal recollections during his field trips to other African countries. This is also difficult for me to respond to. But I will take this path. In 2006, there are nude people in other societies. The existence of these nude people is NEVER taken as the cultural expression of the civilization and societies of these people. In fact Dr. Gamwell answered me BOLDLY WITHOUT ANY APOLOGY (she did not care what I thought about her response, and I respect that , for she has no apology defending her own) when I asked and said there are nude people all over the places in beaches here, will it be right for me to take their pictures? She said a BOLD , NO. I asked if I secretly take their pictures will it be right for me to say this is the way people in this scoiety live? She said A BIG NO. I have documented ALL these answers of Dr. Gamwell in my open letter to the president of this university. Colleagues, what do you think Gamwell is doing? She is defending her own-without any apology, and she is correct in defending her own. Colleagues I , Adeolu will do the same without any apology if anybody crosses the line about my race and continent inspite of all our problems at home. Even if what Nasser saw on his field trip is true (Please I said IF. And there are more important theoretical things to be said about what Nasser saw and nudity in exhibition halls and African culture and civilization), what is important is that we check Dr. Gamwell's position on her own people's nudity when I put her on the spot. Please check properly, her intense resistance that I cannot display it (in other words, I must not cross the line) and say this is the way they live. Though I do not belong in age to their generation, having read their books, I belong to the generation in thought of early African peoples -Azikwe, Amilca Cabral, Mandela, Fanon, Nkrummah, Cheik Anta diop, etc who will defend Africa every day , every time. My deep sense of our collective history disposes me ALL the time to think BLACK , to think AFRICA ALL THE TIME. And to do it critically with all the modern intellectual tools that our God has endowed me with. That is what I expect ALL of us to do when fundamental issues are at stake about our race. My colleague and brother Nasser, the world is not as objective as you think. Check Dr. Gamwell's defence of her own people even as an official of a university when she ought to appear non-partisan about her answers to me (if she was smart enough when I put her under intellectual pressure , on nudity in western world, she should have diplomatically said I have no comment, but she did not for she has no apology telling me I there not display it), she has no apology being clear about the value she wants her people to be given. What shall we do about our own people? When shall we start defending them without any apology to anybody?

4. On who we are defending? I think part of my responses in 3. should answer this. But I want to say the following? (i) If it is about our women, we are not defending them. They have their agency, freewill and subjectivity to defend themselves. And they do so every second of the day with the greatest strength, proper pride , honor and civility I will wish I have . I admire them and respect them (brain and beauty) so much, I love them in their everyday deployment of their God given brains to defend themselves against intellectual assault and aggression against reason of the Acebes type. Each time I see them do this, I chuckle and I say to myself privately, how I wish I have their intellectual strength to do what they do so excellently. I admire and love them with deep reverence. They need nobody to defend them. And this is not patronising. It is just the stubborn truth. (ii) If Nasser's question on who we are defending is about the race, I will say the following: (a) We are defending our race from a second round intellectual capture in the 21st century, (b) we are defending our women and men in small cities and towns at home who the hegemony of western economy put down and put in a complex compromising position immediatelt they see any symbol of western countries . I do not want my people either in Somali, Eritrea, ethiopia, kenya, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania Rwanda, Ghana, Swaziland, South africa, Egypt, Nigeria just name any African countires-to bow before these symbols so I will deploy ALL my intellectual strength to call to question ANYBODY that will want to put my people in any part of Africa in that inferior situation. (Acebes exhibition falls in that category in the most sophisticated sense. let us use our eyes and brains properly)Defending that continent and that race is my duty as a black middle class scholar. I did it yesterday, I will do it today, I will do it tomorrow and forever, I am too much in love with being black than to change(c) We are defending the types of black girls put in an inferior position by stupid things like Acebes exhibition. Check the example I gave in my letter to the president -the girl who said anytime she was clearing her nose when she has cold, her mother would tell her to press her nose very well so that it looks like a white man's nose. I do not want my chidren's nose to look like white man's nose. An Acebes type of exhibition will produce that kind of distorted psychic state for if the race is nude, no one wants to associate with it, (d) As black middle class scholars we are defending ourselves and truth, and knowledge. We are defending a whole civilization that is denigrated everyday. Reason? As black middle class scholars we are always called to duty for we are privileged and are permanently at the threshold of history as it unfolds everyday.

5. I discussed with my parents back home about this to know whether they lived nude in 1950s and whether their own parents lived nude as Acebes and the exhibition presents it. They said No. Since my attention to the exhbition was called to it by a Jewish female student of mine who was mad at the rubbish called exhibition, I called her to speak with my parents in Nigeria on phone to confirm the exhibition or controvert it using raw data of old African peoples. I asked her to be free to ask them any question. Read the details in my letter to the president. My parents informed her that their own parent who were born in the late 19th century (before Acebes 1950s reference) never lived nude. Of course my student was more vexed and sad at the untruth and ignorance her university, Binghamton University museum has packaged as exhbition. My parents are from a city called Ondo in the western part of Nigeria.

I think I will want to stop here. I just do not want to continue. If there are other issues , we will talk about them. But I think if GASO has been able to meet on this, we will not need the email medium to discuss this. For on issues like this, given our environment, a face to face discussion is always better.


Still ON Acebes

To round this off, I want to call our attention on a pleasant note on some things. I think last year or early this year one of the princes of the English monarchy(, the Buckingham palace(I do not know which one of this- those who have more fertile memory should tell us the name after you read this) went to a party in London with his girl friend. He wore a T-Shirt. There was a Nazi symbol on the T-Shirt (Nazis are those who committed genocide against the Jewish people in Germany). The press picked that up and reported it. The whole world was brought down by Jewish resistance to the prince wearing that symbol. That is the worth and inestimable value a race put on itself without any apology to any one. The Buckingham palace was forced to apologise openly. Look colleagues let me repeat this , I AM SAYING THAT THE GOOD JEWISH PEOPLE FOUND A SYMBOL ON A T-SHIRT OF A PRINCE WHO PERHAPS WAS DRUNK OFFENSIVE AND THEY SAID SO OPENLY. AND IT WAS STOPPED AND THE PALACAE APOLOGISED BECAUSE OF SYMBOL ON A T-SHIRT. Given the illiteracy of these princes it is possible the prince may not even know what the symbol reperesnts, but the good Jewish people cannot care about whether he was ignorant or not. The point is that the prince crossed the line about their memory and being, IT MUST STOP THEY SAID AND IT STOPPED-period. .Now let us compare a symbol to an exhibited nude body of a whole race in a unversity museum the body of our respected women- I hear we often say MOTHER AFRICA. this is the time to pay back to that MOTHER whose BODY was completely violated by Acebes exhibition and the university museum-Thank you. Finally, I want to say that the rally or at least meeting with president de fleur will hold on wednesday at 12 noon. If nobody shows up I will do the following on the following basis .

1. The Binghamton University Interdisciplniray Study Group on Africa is a GSO chartered Group. The formation was done by some of us including our colleague Nasser who gloriously collected signatures for its charter with the GSO last session. The present president of GASO is a honorable and distinguished member.

2. The group is membered by scholars whose primary research focus is on Africa, and Black people experiences whereever God has placed us -Carribean, America, Europe etc. In other words the memebership of the group is NOT on the basis of race or skin or color pigmentation.

3. The agenda for last friday's meeting was duly circulated. Acebes exhibition was on the agenda. I remember that the GASO president replied by saying wednesday was good for him to attend but friday was not good. Unfortunately friday was the consensus. So the GASO president would not have been able to attend given his words on dates. But I remember that I met Nasser about two weeks before last friday and he said both wednesday and friday were good for him. Unfortunately too , though both days were good for him he could still not make it I guess because of the call of duty.

4. The group met nevertheless and we took a decison on Acebes which I circulated to all.

5. Given the nature of the study group whose agenda is only and only academic study on the experiences of peoples of African descent, and whose members are not only Africans or blacks( I do not like this thing about skin color for it just signals all kinds of stigmatising differences in my brain), as the outgoing secretary, I am bound to implement its decision in whatever form.

6. The main focus of that decision by the group on Acebes is that the exhibition is a failure of knowledge and a violation of truth, and therefore we as scholars in deference to truth which is an unconditional value of academic scholarship and research have the professional and moral obligation to say so openly. We decided to say so in a petition to the President and a meeting with her after we must have assembled.

7. I as the outgoing serectary of Interdisciplinary Study group On Africa-an academic study group, is required to implement the decisons of the organization before we change our executives. So I will implement the decision of the Interdisciplinary Group On Africa in the best civil form in the circumsatnce.

8. Given the public support for us by GSO which chartered us and since the GSO feels the exhibition is an assault on public reason, I am also bound NOT to let the GSO down in their publicly stated support for the defence of knowledge and truth.

9. Therefore I will stay at the venue where we are supposed to assemble for a few minutes before going to deliver our letter to president de fleur.

10. I have talked with a few people.

11. I have talked with ASO.

12.Today monday I will book an appointment to see the president.

13.I will go with whoever shows up to deliver our letter to the president.

14.If nobody shows up and if the president wants to see us, colleagues, trust me , I will go alone and report to the group that sent me.

I am sorry, I did not address Nasser's point about 'an activist perspective on this" because I am not sure what he meant.

And I want to again thank Nasser for his intervention.

I love you all. and God Bless us all, God bless the black race, God bless ALL races and God bless MOTHER Africa.

Profound Peace now and always.
adeolu ademoyo (Outgoing Secretary: Binghamton University
Interdisciplinary Study Group ON Africa)

 

 

Beniam Awash's remark to GASO (president of Graduate African Student Organization)

Date: October 14, 2006

Dear GASO members:

I am writing this letter in my capacity as president with respect to the art exhibit. I am compelled to write to clarify certain misunderstandings as well as to update the membership on some of the recent activities.

Actions in GASO as a collective can only be taken by GASO members through a process of deliberation and democratic decision making. Neither the e-board nor the President can just declare an action or draft a letter that purports to be representatives unless we are speaking of a dictatorship. Furthermore, I have called for a meeting and was requested that people should be given more time to see the exhibit themselves.

With respect to the Inter-Disciplinary Studies Group's resolution, while we respect and support the right of the Studies Group to layout its own course of action, as of yet, GASO has not come up with its action plan and once we do we obviously will share it with the wider university community. It is in the spirit of unity and cooperation that I point this out to emphasize GASO's integrity and autonomous decision making body which is accountable to its membership. It would have been fruitful for the e-board or myself to have been consulted by the Studies Group so that we could have contributed to coordinating our actions. Nevertheless, for those of you who would like to attend the vigil on a personal basis please do so.

I and Dr. Patrick have on several occasions spoken with the Assistant director of the museum to express some of our member's outrage at the exhibit and the inaction of the museum administration to take responsibility and rectify that.

The Director of the museum will be returning from NY this evening and I will meet with her on Wednesday and will brief you during our general meeting. I will ask her to take responsibility, apologize to our community and to proactively do something within the coming week to address our grievances.

From those of you with whom I have spoken the general prognosis regarding the exhibit has been that it suffers from two interrelated issues?

1. Lack of context and 2. Lack of collaboration

The Art Exhibit failed in its goal of critiquing the exclusive arrogation of nudity to African bodies and the various pictures that imply the less than human qualities of Africans. This failure emanates from the lack of a context to the pictures. The narrative that could explain the meanings, conceptions of nudity and civilization, human nature, sexuality, race, and colonial relations embedded in the pictures is missing in action.

The Art Exhibit failed in collaborating with the relevant experts of our university community in order to produce an exhibit that informs and educates rather than one that misinforms and reproduces certain denigrating stereotypes of Africans. A message that is paradoxically consistent with the views prevalent in Western societies during the period, but not exclusively, in which the pictures were taken 1947/48.

Furthermore, it has been made clear through the ongoing conversations on the list serve as well as via personal communications that I have had with some of you that a consensus of outrage over the exhibit has been arrived at but suggested responses have oscillated from writing a protest letter to calling for the censure of the exhibit.

As such, I would like to call for a general meeting on Friday 10/20/06 to meet at the Graduate Lounge from 3- 4 pm. The agenda will be dedicated to formulating an action plan that will be communicated to the university administration, museum faculty and GSO.

Please come prepared to air your thoughts and vote. For those who are unable to make it please express your views on the list serve and caste a vote as well.

The results of our GASO general meeting will also be communicated to the GSO senate meeting on Wednesday by a member of our e-board. The idea being that GSO will vote on an official position and hopefully we all can have a common position.

Possible Action(s):

[1] Letter of Concern
[] Drafted by the e-board and sent to museum director and the President.

[2] Censure and Close the Exhibit

[3] Round Table Seminar This has been suggested as a broadening of the Nov. 9 forum to allow for faculty and graduate students to present the necessary narrative that can contextualize the pictures such that they inform, educate and meet the goal of critiquing rather than the disgraceful reproduction of denigrating stereotypes.

Possible Speakers:
Graduate Students: Nasir, Jessie and Mbego
Possible Professors/Faculty: Patrick

I look forward to seeing you all on Friday @ 3. Until then stay safe.

Sincerely,

Beniam Awash
GASO's President

 

 

Adeolu Ademoyo's letter to the president of the university (Louis Defleur)

Date: October 15, 2006

The Acebes Exhibition: An Uninformed Ideological Subversion Of knowledge And The Public Space. End This In The Name Of The Public nature Of The University.

Dear President Defleur, Louis

It is my hope that this meets you well. I write with respect to the Acebes exhibition sponsored by the State University of New York, Binghamton under the auspices of the university museum. But permit me to introduce myself. I am doctoral student in Philosophy Interpretation And Culture. I am a trained student of philosophy –both history and contemporary. I specialize in African philosophy with focus on Ethics , and I teach philosophy and language.

About two weeks ago, I went to see the Acebes exhibition. During my visit, I engaged the Director of Museum on the exhibition for 1 hour 30 minutes on virtually all aspects of the exhibition –metaphysics, epistemology, logic, while privileging my discussion with her on aesthetics. For two weeks , I had constantly reflected on the exhibition and my interaction with Dr. Lynn Gamwell the director of the university museum. Purely from the point of view of the essential nature of knowledge production and its dissemination, I wanted my rational reflections on the exhibition to instruct me about my judgment. Thus I tarried and dialogued with self. Unfortunately, I have come to the indubitable conclusion that the exhibition raises critical questions about the very foundations and known values of academic scholarship, the meaning of the essential nature of a university as a center of knowledge. It is with critical pain that I came to the conclusion that either the exhibition lacks the depth of understanding and scope of knowledge the exhibition purports to disseminate or that the exhibition consciously represents an ideological position on aesthetics, culture and civilization as they are rooted in the metaphysics, epistemology and ethics of the people and race the exhibition purports to represent. I maintain this position from purely scholarly ground for the following reasons.

For your convenience, I divide my letter to you into three parts. I number my points for ease of reference. They are : (i) my review of the exhibition, (ii) my engagement of Dr. Lynn Gamwell and (iii) reasons why the exhibition should be shut and we stop spending scarce university funds, students’s funds, and public funds on the promotion of a subversion of knowledge and truth or an ideological art diet.

1. The exhibition has on display 42 photographs and some narratives to accompany the photographs. 10 out of the 42 photographs are nude. In other words 25% of the photographs at the exhibition are nude purportedly to represent its theme. The quantitative implication of this is crucial for an understanding of the scholarly and truth value or ideological stance of the exhibition.

2. The titles of some of the subjects of some of the 25% of the nude photographs are “Unidentified”. For example you have “Unidentified Girl..” , “Unidentified Woman”. etc . I am focusing on the very meaning and sense of the “Unidentified”. In my discipline-philosophy and all its areas viz African philosophy, European philosophy, Asian philosophy, Latin American philosophy, American philosophy etc – Identity, Unidentity, Non-identity, Being Unidentifiable etc are crucial themes and subject matter . For art this may be a non issue. Thus some artists and aestheticians can claim that the category “Unidentified” may be a question of “style” in their representations. But before we concede this the question is :Is there an art form/practice or aesthetics without its metaphysics and epistemology such that we collapse an ideologically loaded representation into a question of “style”? My little knowledge of art and aesthetics as disciplines does not bear this out . Thus is it accidental that there is a coincidence between “Non –identity” or “Unidentity” or the ‘Unidentifiable” in the exhibition and nudity within the context of the people and purported period the images represent? Again the “coincidence” may be a question of artistic naming “style” or knowledge or lack of it, or an ideological stance. Whatever it is, is a significant part of the complete subversion of knowledge and departure from scholarship which this exhibition represents. I will defend this view in this letter to you.

3. The images are supposedly documented in the 1950s. In other words they are 20th century images. It is important that you and we scholars in the Binghamton university link this period-1950s- to nudity, to Identity, Non –Identity, Unidentity, Undentifiability, “Unidentifiable” etc. I will speak to this shortly. Or rather let me quickly discharge this burden. If (dear Madam, please note my conditional statement, IF) the exhibition on which public, students’ and university funds have been used to sponsor is a faithful representation of its theme then we have the warrant to speak of the Unidentifiable, Nonidentity, Unidentity, No-identity, about a people and a continent in the 20th century. This can be said by artists such as Acebes, and the sponsor, the Binghamton University museum to be a question of “style”. But like I told Dr. Lynn Gamwell - my knowledge may be limited- but I am not aware in the literature of any style in any discipline without its metaphysics, its epistemology, its ethics, and its ideological stance. Style speaks to something. A style is a frame which includes, excludes, distort, malign and mangle. In other words there is teleology to styles. This reminds one of colonialist metaphysics, anthropology and sociology which I believe in the 20th century is a Hollywood practice which is about cash-the more nonsensical a representation, the more cash you draw. The imaginary, the nonsensical , the exotic, the weird or to use a more popular and stylistic term, the awesome can be the cup of Hollywood practice, I am not sure the nature of the university, and Binghamton university as I understand it lends itself or ought to lend itself to the image of the Hollywood. To therefore turn the university or scholarship to Hollywood scholarship and feed this as “research” to our innocent students both black and non-black (who given my three years of teaching here in Binghamton University , are limited in their awareness of this or are aware only from inherited flawed and rigged colonial scholarship about other continents) –is to inflict unpardonable injury against knowledge and turn knowledge on its head.

4. The images have side by side them some narratives. The narratives are to explain the images. Put together, the narratives not only contradict themselves , the consequence of this contradiction is that the exhibition promotes what it purportedly claims it is critiquing. And this speaks to the quality of “knowledge” the exhibition is deployed to promote. I will explain. One of the narratives goes thus (a) “…Unclothed African bodies are featured in the numerous photographs by Hector Acebes and other foreign photographers who worked through out the continent during the early 20th century. These images were reported on early colonial postcards and in magazines such as National Geographic and Life. By presenting nude bodies and particularly those of women in full view , these photographs suggest that it is acceptable and perhaps even more appropriate to present Africans as naked and available for American and European audiences. They heighten pre-colonial notions of primitive reality and beliefs that the entire continent is in fact naked … It continues to inform and sustain stereotypes about African peoples and exists in a range of contemporary forms –from Hollywood cinema to commercial fashion and large scale advertising campaign. This section of the exhibition considers complicated and varied ways that African women’s bodies have been constructed and displayed in Acebes works…” (my emphasis). After this assertion in the narrative NOTHING else follows in the narrative, absolutely NOTHING. In other words the narrative makes a claim about the patently flawed practices of Hollywood and National Geographic “scholarship” and the exhibition presents the same ideologically skewed and jaundiced product for “consideration”. For two hours thirty minutes, divided into one hour of patient and diligent walk round the exhibition hall while taking my copious notes in long hand, and another one hour thirty minutes of conversation with Dr. Lynn Gamwell and another senior staff of the museum I searched critically and passively for the critical elements of “consideration” of ‘how African women’s bodies have been constructed and displayed in Acebes’ works” as claimed in the narrative, I did not see any critique or critical consideration. Part of what I saw is a representation of nudity of the specie the narrative alluded to as contained in National Geographic, Life and Hollywood. Nothing in the narrative or nude images show a critical distancing from the obviously racist National Geographic and Hollywood intellectually dubious representations of the other that the exhibition claims it is critiquing. If there is no such critical and intellectual distancing from Hollywood style and 25% of the exhibition ended presenting the same Hollywood street and pop “intellectual” “scholarship” there is good ground to conclude that the images promote what the narrative claim it is critiquing. This is a contradiction unacceptable and alien to decent and rigorous intellectual culture and scholarship our university, Binghamton university is known for. Dear President , with due respect, I cannot count the number of times I have read this narrative and looked at the images just so that I am sure that I can sustain my claim and be fair to the curators and the Director of Binghamton University museum, the university itself and our students who Dr. Lynn Gamwell claimed to me have been coming in “excitedly” with great “enthusiasm”( I will refer to this shortly) to take notes on the exhibition for their classes. Each time I read this thing, I came to the same conclusion: The Binghamton University through its museum has imported and reproduced the same academically untenable National Geographic and Hollywood downtown, pop and street “scholarship” into an academic space. And that is not only offensive and a violation of the public visual space, and knowledge as scholars know it, it is a major historical and contemporary offence to the African and Black sensibility. I am going to give three examples and experiences from my class teaching here in Binghamton and Cornell universities of the consequences of this kind of complete subversion of the public space and what we as academics take as knowledge and truth. I am going to make public the kind of students and humans we have produced and still produce sequel to this negation. This relates to the psychic state of our students –black, white or whatever color and skin pigmentation that are available since some are now trapped by this unfortunate vocabulary and how the other looks. But let me relate this narrative to a second one . (b) Another narrative says “…Many 19th and 20th centuries representation of African peoples emerged out of unequal power relationships between the photographer and the photographed. However as Acebes’ photographs especially those of women demonstrate , Africans are not merely passive objects with photos . Often they actively contribute to the construction of their images. While it is difficult to make any definitive claims about the subjects’ roles in the production of Acebes’ images, a consideration of the ways in which he frames his subjects and the way in which they present themselves before his camera reveal certain details…” ( all emphasis mine). This second narrative purports to be an aesthetic and epistemological compliment and virtue. It purports to ground the images in the “agency” and “subjectivity” of the subjects. In other words if “they actively contribute to the construction of their images”, as the narrative claims, the images as presented represent their “free will” “agency” and ‘subjectivity”. However we must critically understand this. How? By relating it to the second narrative , and if the exhibition is a totality, we must relate it to the totality of the exhibition. What moral can we draw from this relation? Simple. First, from the narratives’ spurious allusion to the subjects’s “agency” and “subjectivity” as freely given in the images , we should deduce that the subjects self consciously and reflectively construct their nudity. In popular language, “this is the way they are”. I have heard such stiupid thing before from a doctoral student colleague of mine here in Binghamton University in a graduate seminar class in 2005. Of course I told my colleague that anywhere anytime she would present the paper in which she holds that view she should please give me a call. She never did. For She never had the intellectual audacity and confidence to make that paper public after a critical challenge of the so-called paper in the graduate seminar given that the paper seethed with deep seated ignorance. Ironically, in my critical conversation, with Dr. Gamwell , interestingly and curiously , Dr. Gamwell confessed to me that in at least one of the photographs Acebes positioned himself against one of the subjects consciously in a hegemonic relation to the subject. Yet the narrative glibly talks about “unequal power relations” between the subjects of a photographer and the photographer which the exhibition claims to want to critique. Deduction: Dr. Gamwell’s confession to me speaks volume about “agency” and “subjectivity” of the subjects the narratives claim for them and the “unequal power relations’ the exhibition claims to be critiquing. . The second moral we can draw from this is that foreign photographers and often ignorant and intellectually incompetent anthropologists and so-called artists have continuously preyed globally on subjects they do not have competence in and did not and still do not -unlike honest and committed academics-have the intellectual modesty(the first virtue of true scholarship) to first admit and then proceed to study their subjects before making pronouncements. The second narrative claims that the images and in this case African bodies are active participants in the creation of the images we see. In other words they are conscious and in dialogue with the photographer and the camera lens. The consequence of this is that the nude images are in a self conscious condition and are in a reflective dialogue with the camera lens and the photographer!!! Deduction: they created their nudity and consciously handed it over to the camera lens in their dialogue with the photographer!!! This second deduction MUST be related to a part of the claim in the second narrative which is that “…he Acebes frames his subject…” Now if he frames his subjects, a frame is a style, is an ideological stance which as pointed out in point 3 above can include, exclude, mangle , destroy, malign, distort and to put it plainly tell a lie. Therefore , a frame is a paradigm , a teleology deployed for a set purpose. If the consequence of this teleology is now obvious to the visual aesthetic eye as a complete subversion of the very meaning and fundamentals of knowledge production and its dissemination, why should the university use scarce public and students funds to promote a violation and ignorance ? The only rational deduction here is that the Binghamton University Museum under the auspices of the university administration is in cahoots with a complete denigration of knowledge a continent and a people. I welcome a correction of this, but such correction must appeal to the logic of the claim, reason and rationality, and NOT to people or authority for that will be fallacious. A rebuttal of my claim should look closely at the images, the narratives , the contradictions and not who curate or the race of the curator as Dr. Lynn Gamwell often does in her defense of this obvious departure from everything called knowledge.

5. Now let us turn to a part of my over 90 minute’s discussion with Dr.Lynn Gamwell. Before I proceed , in the deference to-truth-the unconditional and inviolable value and virtue of academic scholarship which we all are committed to evoke in our work, I ask Dr. Gamwell to controvert any claim imprinted herein. I pointed to her that African aesthetics (even when this exhibition does not represent one, I maintain this on the basis of the logic of my training and teaching and I put myself on the line to be rebutted on this claim) consistent with its metaphysics is a total unity of form and content. Unlike Western metaphysics in the history of Western philosophy which dualises mind and body(Descartes, Kant and all the rest of the thinkers in the western and European tradition), African metaphysics in the history of African philosophy does not do this. The consequence is that these two philosophical traditions produce different ethics and aesthetics ; and the meanings of the private and the public. The same goes for the African metaphysics of the body – a dialogue in African philosophy. The body is a critical unity of the material and immaterial which does not lend itself to phallic gratification or a physical gratification of any type. In that discourse of the metaphysics of the body, the African women’s agency and subjectivity is privileged the women being participants in the discourse. That Judeo-Christian modernity terminated that discourse through the evil of colonialism and slavery and thus subjugated and domesticated the African female body thus rupturing the female agency in line with a different metaphysics of the body(which perhaps takes a different view of the body) is part of the philosophical challenge to African thought. Thus the metaphysics of the female body in African thought prior to the plundering of slavery and colonialism extends this view such that it is the same historical body which the women in an African city of Abeokuta Nigeria turned to a political weapon to exit the misrule of the head of the city who had become public enemy number one in the eyes of the people. Is this turning the female body into a special sacred entity as it may be claimed? No. It is saying in the African and Black thought I am familiar with , the body is constituted in a way for example the material object called camera is not. Hence they cannot be deployed the same way. Simple. Paradoxically, it is the material extension of that historical black female body that the Acebes exhibition gratifies so uncritically without any intellectual explanation or justification. But the Acebeic practice and the exhibition follow a pattern on African thought where so called interrogators immodestly refuse to study the context of their work before making judgments or dig their lenses into the context. Such failure often turns the researcher to a bad witness of truth and knowledge. Perhaps Acebes exhibition is a normal routine –another eye contact for the day with that exotic “incomprehensible” black body- for a more important thinker in western thought Herr Hegel, one of the finest, committed the same faux pas of being a bad witness to truth and knowledge. Without leaving his country and relying on a diary of an incompetent missionary who had a brief stay in just a part of Africa Hegel philosophized on the African mind, and came to the intellectually dubious conclusion that “the African mind is incomprehensible”. He could not have comprehended what he never tried to understand or understood from his own frame like Acebes exhibition. One of Africa’s most distinguished thinkers and philosophers Olufemi Taiwo has taken this up in his celebrated essay “Exorcising Hegel’s Ghost: Africa’s Challenge To Philosophy”. Thus one does not need to say more on this. But the point of it is that a failure to commit intellectual energy to the setting and subject of one’s research and understand it-like doctoral students are called upon for example to learn the language of the areas of their research- commits one to being a bad witness of truth and knowledge. The Acebes exhibition demonstrates this. Thus based on the logic of scholarship I will make a categorical claim here. Any scholar(even a photographer who wants to be taken seriously in knowledge and in academia and who wants to rise beyond Hollywood and National Geographic photography and “scholarship” ) worthy of that name in whatever discipline ought to be steeped in this minimal understanding before proceeding in her/his research. For example as a black person and scholar with focus on African philosophy, African-American and African Caribbean philosophy , I come from a philosophical tradition which does not dualise the mind and body. It will be intellectually problematic if I engage a western subject and discourse based on the non-duality of mind and body. For a photographer to put his /her lenses on what is private in that metaphysics and write it into public and make that a cultural expression of the people is nothing but professional incompetence and an assault on knowledge if this exhibition is to be taken as a knowledge form. And the correct thing is to throw such exhibition into the dustbin. Now a rebuttal may be “ … oh see that those photographs were taken in public…” And this is precisely the point about the problem of the depth of knowledge. The notion of the public and the private differs. The public- ness of one public may just be different from the public- ness of another public. And this is the point : in 20th century, there are people who are nude in beaches and places in some societies . Even when this is germane, the Binghamton University has not sponsored such nudity on campus and calls it a cultural expression of the whole society in spatio-temporal terms. But this is not the point I want to make here. The point I am making is that I , as a scholar would need to understand the issue of private/public consistent with the metaphysics of the nude people in beaches and other places in such societies I am interested in before I dip my lenses into their private bodies and craft out nudity as an aesthetic form. Interestingly, in my discussion with Dr. Lynn Gamwell, I drew this analogy and looked straight into her eyes. I asked if it will be correct for me to dig my lens into the bodies of those in nude in some other societies and exhibit them . She said No. I asked if it would be correct to call my images of such nude bodies even in 2006, as a cultural expression of that society and their civilization. She said No. I narrow the instances down , I asked if it will be right to claim that ‘this is the way the people live spatio-temporally”. She asked me what I meant by spatio-temporally. I said I will explain. I asked: will it be right to claim this is the way those in nude in beaches and other places in other societies live everyday(temporally) and every place (spatially). She said “… ah no….” Apparently either she did not catch the move of the argument or it was something else. I then asked finally, if this is your answer to these questions , why your exhibition, why are your answers different from Africans and black people ? Dr Lynn Gamwell could not answer that and we quickly turned to another topic. I noticed Dr Gamwell’s discomfort and unbelief at the result of our argument by analogy( I remember she jokingly told me she took some philosophy classes in her undergraduate days, so she was at home with the simple logical form called “analogy”). Given this discomfort, I allowed the shift in the discussion out of intellectual courtesy consistent with my black and African background and ethics. Dr. Gamwell then added as a defense that “oh but the exhibition is curated by an African American…” I replied and drew out the logic of her answer. The point that the curator is an African American is meant to show that it is curated by a black scholar. But this has not answered the question about the justification of the epistemological and metaphysical issues contained and promoted by the exhibition. What Dr. Gamwell’s defense amounts to is that “this aesthetic faux pas is justified because it is curated by scholar of an African descent…” This is a fallacy , and it is just better for good reasons that we ignore this. But to show her that the issue for me is not in the first instance about race but about how knowledge is falsely constructed , and how studies on Africa and black studies is not genetic , I pointed to her that the president of the International Society of African Philosophy is a non-black but an American by name Professor Barry Hallen. I told her that if Barry Hallen walks into the exhibition and sees this , given his deep knowledge of Africa and African philosophy he will probably maintain the same position that the exhibition is flawed and promotes Hollywood scholarship. His position I am sure will derive from the very subject of African culture and civilization. Barry Hallen is a professor here in an American university. He speaks the language and knows the subject. He is white. Deduction? : The issue here is intellectual and professional competence, the absence of which promotes a departure from knowledge. It is not about who curated an exhibition neither is it about the race of the person for Black studies-African, African American, African Caribbean is not genetic. They are free intellectual spaces for any serious scholar of any race. The minimal demand of the discipline consistent with demands in other disciplines is that one roots oneself in the subject one is studying.

6. It is important to recall Dr. Gamwell’s claim to me that Binghamton University students have been coming in with great “enthusiasm” to see the exhibition for the purpose of their classes. The point of this recall is the content and qualitative meaning of their “great enthusiasm”. Some do patronize Hollywood cinema halls with great enthusiasm. We know what is available for the eyes in those halls. So if our students have been going to the museum with great enthusiasm we should ask for what purpose ? I concede that there are classes in our dear university which call to question racist scholarship, the obverse is also true. There are those which deepen it either overtly or by their deafening silence about the contributions of other civilizations and thoughts to scholarship. Here in Binghamton University, I have been asked on many occasions if there is “anything called” (sic) African , African-American , African Caribbean, Latin American philosophy for example. I have taught an epistemology class in this university once and when I mentioned names of black thinkers and philosophers students looked straight at me and said “Ade.. what are you talking about , are you serious, and are there black philosophers…? They are seniors, graduating, after 4 years of college education. There are history classes whose syllabi are written either in complete distortion of contributions of others or in subtle exclusion of their positive contributions. The consequence on students of distortion and exclusion in this context is the same. And our students can be innocent victims or survivors of such curriculum. Now suppose we have students who are either limited or constrained in their knowledge of the other ; or are survivors or victims of distortion and exclusion in curriculum; and Binghamton University Museum sponsors an Acebes exhibition which deepens such distortion , and students are coming with ‘great enthusiasm” to the exhibition, it follows that the university has handed over and delivered a certificate of legitimacy for their limitation or constraint at the level of flawed data to these students who are innocently limited in their understanding of the other. To hand over a certificate of legitimacy to possible victims of distorted and exclusionary studies, and claim that such students are coming into the exhibition “with great enthusiasm” speaks volume of our position on knowledge and truth in the university .I do not think the university museum should turn itself into a field where “enthusiastic students “ do field work and collect flawed data to justify an already ill conceived notions about the other. I do hope that Dr. Gamwell will reflect deeply on her claim to me that students “are coming in with great enthusiasm” .

7. I recall that as I was leaving Dr. Gamwell and her assistant after our conversation, Dr. Gamwell said something to the effect that it is a debate and it continues and that it may be a question of interpretation and perception. Respectfully, I did not know and still do not know what to make of that claim. I will address the issue of interpretation . But permit me to quickly respond to the point about debate. Given the history of the evils of slavery, colonialism and genocide , I am not sure of the meaning of a debate between survivors of genocide for example . I have not seen where survivors of genocide “debate’ with the perpetrators of genocide without first asking perpetrators to admit to the grave evil. A questionable aesthetic aggression against the very foundations of black culture, epistemology, and civilization; a public aesthetic aggression against the black body is one of the worst forms of genocide for survivors of such psychic genocide are living and their psychic state is under attack.

8. When Dr. Gamwell talked about interpretation, I want to place that within the context of a serious concept in the discourse. This is the issue of philosophical ambiguity. An issue lends itself to interpretations if and only if there is an ambiguity. For example it could be said that someone’s position is driven by materialism. This could create ambiguity such that that person is said to be ostentatious or that she/he believes that everything in the world is material. In Acebes exhibition we do not have such form of ambiguity that calls for interpretation or debate for it says that ‘this is the way bodies of African women have been presented” and 25% of the images show that. So what are we interpreting or debating?

9. With due and genuine respect to your office based on my black and African sensibility, henceforth in this letter to you, I will give some examples from my teaching experience in Binghamton university of the danger of the subversion of knowledge which the Binghamton university museum has sponsored. I call this elliptical psychic impact on students and the public of the dissemination of untruth and subversion of knowledge. It is elliptical precisely because this impact is not seen as one sees an objective material thing, it is only acted out. It is not visible but psychologically internalized . (a) Spring , 2004, I was a Teaching Assistant in Methods Of Reasoning class of the department of philosophy, Binghamton University. As I walked into my very first class , I moved to the front table, shuffled my class notes and started writing on the board. Some of the students said “…. Excuse me…hey we have logic….” I said I knew, and that that was what we were about to start. Another said “…oh but our TA is coming… you are not the TA…” I did not catch immediately what was going on, but I remember that I managed to ask if they knew their TA. Some said no. Ignoring the challenge and just to put some humor on the challenge I said okay guys let us start the day’s work, enough of this. They were still not convinced that I was the TA. They were still uncomfortable. When I wrote the topic of the day on the board, and started talking some managed to start listening. After sometime they all sat up and put up a wait and see posture. I think I remember either immediately after the challenge or in between lecture that I said to them if I wrote ‘tribal drumming” or rap music on the board they will not adopt the same attitude. They caught my challenge and blinked. After the class , some walked up to me and the following questions ensued. “oh where are you from?” “ You talked so well… We never saw someone like you teach philosophy or logic” You must have stayed long here. Where did you pick your degree from, here?” “ You are not like them –meaning African Americans” etc . Though they were innocent, I did not allow such divisionist racist laden questions to go without challenge . Of

10. course I immediately crushed the stupid stereotype about me being unlike the African Americans for that was too loaded and emotionally disturbing for me. But I continued to listen with rapt attention. Imagine a situation where students come out of the portals of Hollywood “scholarship” such as the National Geographic similar to the Acebes exhibition at the Binghamton University museum, my students’ psychological state in the Methods Of Reasoning Class is the psychic effect such portals create on students. Of course if black and African peoples are the way such jaundiced portals(like the Acebes exhibition) portray them, of course they cannot handle such abstract thing as philosophy or logic. I remember I told them I was just about three/four months in US, and that my training in philosophy and the logic I was teaching them was from Nigeria. Some did not believe. After the semester, some came to me and said they have never had a better professor and of course their assessment showed that. I have related this on several occasions to my students and friends just to educate. I remember some said ‘ah how did you handle that…? I remember I said being a victim of the evil of colonialism , slavery and such cognitive prejudices exhibitions (in 2006 such as the Acebes exhibition) promote , and based on my African sense of evil which includes grace, compassion , reconciliation and forgiveness I cannot practice reversed racism. The kids did well in their examination. Those who worked hard got the good grades they deserved. (b) Spring 2006. After my Black Epistemology class , in spring 2006, a female African American student walked into my office after the end of the semester. I was a bit scared , for she walked in and immediately shut the door. Later her composure was appreciative. She said “ I just want to thank you… You can never know what you have done to many of us black people and African Americans in your class…” I said what is it? We talked about your class. Given that the class had ended I thought the students were inpatient to see their grades. So I said I have some more days to submit your grades… I need to read all your essays , so give me more time. She said this is a more important issue. It is not about grades. It is about who I am. She then went into a narration still being appreciative. She said ‘you can never know the transformation I went through in your class. .. While I was a little child 3- 4 year old , whenever I had cold and I wanted to clear my nose my mom would tell me to press my nose hard with my two hands…” I was oblivious of what was going on. I asked Why? She said my mom would say I want your nose chiseled out and to be pointed like that of a Caucasian nose…so press it hard, and chisel it out by pressing…” She added ‘And here you were in the black epistemology class teaching us about knowledge construction…” I was shocked , sad and depressed. It was no fun for me. She should be about 21 years in age. My student had been a psychological wreck , a victim of how knowledge is constructed , and justified for 21 years. She is a survivor of an aesthetic aggression on the black body. The black epistemology class is a class on the construction of knowledge and its modes of justification in the literature. When we took on the aesthetic aspect to it, we interrogated how such knowledge construction is inscribed on the human bodies in portals such as Hollywood “scholarship” and exhibitions. Looking back now to spring 2006 and still reflecting on the Acebes exhibition, whoever walked out of the portals of that exhibition, and is deficient in knowledge and truth about the reality being hawked by that exhibition and lacks the intellectual resources which some of us still have (with due modesty) to resist this manner of untruth and prejudice will think like my dear student and her mother. Of course I asked her how she felt now after the class. She said of course I am going back to my mom and I am empowered to deal with this rubbish that turned me and my mother to think this way-her words. How I wish she is still around to see Acebes exhibition . © Fall 2006. Another black student walked into my office . She is a female student- an African American who still has some lingering residue of her African roots. She has registered for a History class. She came in to discuss her essay. In the class the issue is how colonialism came to Africa and one of the things the colonialist allegedly did was to “teach” Africans the concept of cleanliness. It is said that the colonialist gave Africans soap and taught them how to use it. She was confused and she was going to do her essay on that perhaps in affirmation of the claim. Again, having lived all my life in Africa, Nigeria, with trips in and out of my country, I was rattled and almost dumbfounded. I asked her to give me the text books . I read them. Not knowing how to proceed for it was too huge for me given the complete revision of the plunder colonial project in Africa that view represents, I took the basic and elementary route. I asked her if she still remembered her language. She does just a bit for she said one of her parents speak it. I asked what the parent would call soap. She named it-Ose Dudu-literally translated to black soap. I asked if with her knowledge of English language , if there is any etymological linkage between the concept of “Ose Dudu” and the English language concept “soap”. She answered None. Though she is not a philosophy student , I said you have to do some philosophical thinking and abstraction here. She asked what I meant. I said if it is true that the colonialist plunder of African culture and civilization was a humanitarian gesture and the colonialist taught Africans how to bathe , then there is etymological linkage between the concept Ose Dudu and soap , then Africans did not have the concept of soap and therefore did not have the material object soap. She saw the argument. She completed it by herself and said if there is no etymological linkage, and Africans have ose dudu as a material object, then it is strange to reason to claim that colonialist came to Africa to teach Africans how to bathe. As trite and uncouth as the view about soap and cleanliness is, I had to turn to the most pedestrian way to debunk it. She wanted to leave in anger to write her essay, I said tarry a little, you cannot go. Fortunately, I had Walter Rodney’s Book : How Europe Underdeveloped Africa in the office. I asked if they read it in class. She said she had never heard of it and had never seen it. I gave it to her, and pointed to some passages in the text about the cleanliness of the ambience of African cities, dexterity of African clothes etc –which are all about hygiene long before the evil of colonialism and slavery. I asked her to read that along with the class text and come to an independent opinion. Now plug in the Acebes infamous exhibition with the history class this female kid is taking, and you will see the complete violation of the psychic state of our students by the peddling of untruth. Of course the students came back and said do you know what? I said I do not know what. She said an aspect of their class is similar to the Acebes exhibition and that she has another black student in her dorm who insisted she is white . I will not know if her friend went to see Acebes. She said the girl is ebony black. But that the girl said if her genealogy is traced her fore parents must be white!!!! I wonder what kind of biological accident will produce that beside species of Acebes’ exhibition for if you see Acebes, and if it is hawked as truth, you must distance yourself from such civilization. That is the psychic breakdown of our student. She lives in Hinman Dorm. But what is crucial for me is the psychic state of our student’s sequel to what go on around them. One of such is the Acebes exhibition and its species which celebrates the complete mutilation of the African cognition.

I have heard that there is going to be a debate on the exhibition. That seems to me unnecessary.. Like I hinted to Dr. Gamwell, when I visited her, this is not about a debate. Have you ever seen a situation where survivors of genocide debate with their murderer on the correctness of genocide? The artistic genocide going on as exhibition at the Binghamton university museum is an attack on a whole race and civilization. I do not believe it is worthy to debate the correctness of a grave error. The museum should apologize to the academic community , the African and black community of scholars and students, and all students on this campus for misleading us.

I will like to end my letter to you by saying that on rational grounds I am persuaded beyond doubt that the Acebes exhibition lacks the depth and scope of what it purports to exhibit. I believe that it contradicts itself either consciously or unconsciously in what it claims it is doing. I believe it is a waste of public funds to put university, public and student’s resources behind such patent display of untruth , subversion of knowledge and the public space.

I believe this exhibition is laden with all the cultural resources to promote racism, xenophobia and bigotry on our campus. I cannot see what students would learn from untruth if not deepen the substrate of racism in people- a problem the country is trying to erase. Dear president , after I saw the exhibition and I move around the campus and I see the university flyers which say “There is no place for hate and racism on our campus..”, my mind goes back to Acebes exhibition. And I ask myself is this true?

Also, I want to ask a simple question: Given the nature of philosophy which empowers us humans to interpret correctly the nature of things first at an abstract level before its delivery to other disciplines , why is it that State University Of New York, Binghamton does not have a single course on African philosophy? Looking at the university ‘s promotion of Acebes exhibition, I cannot but relate its failure to the abysmal absence of knowledge of African thought at an interpretative level. Is it therefore accidental or conscious that the university has failed consistently to offer a crucial subject as African philosophy in its curriculum? I leave this to you Madam.

But in the name of everything decent and in deference to the true tradition of scholarship which is a promotion of knowledge and truth , I appeal to you to shut down the exhibition and we should stop using university resources to promote a failure of knowledge and hate on campus.

Dear President De Fleur let me end this letter on a private note . And I plead that this does not bother you for in my philosophical tradition the private is critically in unity with the public. My attention was first drawn to the Acebes exhibition by one of my students in my Epistemology class in spring 2006. She is non-black and she is non-African , though I do not know her race or where she is from. Normally, as a matter of choice I do not ask such questions for I relate to people only on the basis of their intellectual and moral state and not where they come from. She met me somewhere outside the Library Tower and claimed that our class last spring was prophetic and perhaps visionary. I asked what she meant. She replied wanting to know if I am aware of the Acebes exhibition. I said no. She said aspects of our critical engagements in the Epistemology class have some connection with the exhibition. I wondered what that meant, so I decided to look in some days later. After that I decided to do this letter to you , but I thought I should also talk with my parents at home about the exhibition . I wanted to be sure that my position about the misrepresentation is correct. I also asked my student who drew my attention to the exhibition to come around to my office , for I wanted her to listen to my mom and dad on phone. I tried to represent the nudity as adequately as I could to my parents on phone and I asked if they lived the way I have just narrated to them. My mom was more vehement in her rejection of the image I painted, and asked if this is the way Africans and black people are represented here. At that stage I asked if they do not mind to talk with my student who was with me on the issue. They said yes. I asked them to speak slowly for my parents speak with Nigerian accent laden with British English while my student speaks with American English with American accent. I asked her also to speak slowly so that we have mutual intelligibility between the two parties. I asked my student to paint the images she saw at the exhibition to my parents. She did . At the end of this exchange my student came out more offended by the type of knowledge the Acebes exhibition and the university has sponsored because my dad and mom not only described to her how they lived but how their own parents lived in the early 20th century long before 1950’s the period the exhibition claims it covers. This was contrary to the knowledge the images the exhibition portrayed. She was too shocked and left my office speechless. When I told her later that I was doing a long letter to you, Madam, she said she wanted to jointly sign the letter with me just so that you know that some thing is wrong with the exhibition. I refused. I said I will speak out , and I want to singularly take responsibility for my action of speaking out. She said she does not care. I said I care for she is an undergraduate. The matter ended their. I commit this to our moral conscience and that of the academic community in our university, Binghamton University.

God bless.
Thank you and Peace Pofound Always
Sincerely,
Adeolu Ademoyo

 

 

Dr. Gamwell's response to Dr. Mazrui

Date: October 17, 2006

Dear Dr. Mazrui,

I'm sorry that I offended you by not consulting with the Department of African Studies about the Hector Acebes exhibition. I planned the exhibit in consultation with the Anderson Center in conjunction with their performance of African music. I normally do not consult with Departments on Museum programming unless I am doing joint programming with the Department (as in the interdisciplinary Shakespeare Festival last year).

I appreciate your advice for "damage control."

When I booked this event I brought to our campus the perspective of two scholars (the curators). I do not want to close the exhibit early because, in my opinion, this amounts to silencing their voices on our campus. In the spirit of open debate at a University I think it is better to have a discussion (the symposium on Nov. 9th) and leave the exhibit open for its full run, even if we disagree with its contents.

Since I arrived on campus in 1988 I have worked to improve the national reputation of the Binghamton University Art Museum. The moment I censor an exhibition I throw that reputation away.

I like very much your idea of having a second conference in the Spring on broader theme of "NUDITY AND ART: COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES" because it extends the intellectual discussion. I would be happy to join efforts to realize this goal.

Having a person from a tropical African culture participate in the Nov. 9th discussion would add an important voice to the forum. Please forward me the name of the person and I will follow up.

With respect and gratitude,
Lynn Gamwell

 

 

Adeolu Ademoyo's response to Dr. Gamwell

Date: October 17, 2006

Dear Dr. Lynn Gamwell.

Thanks for your mail below. The talk about 'not silencing voices' is so instructive. It adds depth to your position on this issue when I met with you on October 3, 2006. I am busy now teaching through out the day, I will not be able to give a more comprehensive reply to the institutional issues in your mail below.

But Let me ask this quickly: Early this year or sometime late last year(I cannot remember instantly now ) , a prince and scion of the English monarchy went partying in a T-shirt that has a sign of the Nazi on the T-shirt . The good Jewish people protested this globally. That singular act of emblazoning the symbol of genocide on a T-shirt inflamed the progressive and decent section and voices of our small world. The scion of the British Monarchy-the culprit-apologised, and the institution of the moranchy itself apologised to the world, the boy yanked off the ignoble T-shirt . And the matter died a natural death. Were the good jewish people right to have protested and ask for an apology? Yes. If they did not protest, I Adeolu Ademoyo will protest and ask the good Jewish people why they are keeping
quiet at the complete insensitivity to their experience. If this act of protest (of the heroic Jewish people)was right( and I not only believe it was right , I am justified to believe that it was right) in the eyes of the global community , our common small world, and there was no position on the 'silencing the voice" of this ignorant so-called prince, why is the manstra of "not silencing voices" raised when it concerns the historic feelings of black people, Africans and people of color? This is my question to you Dr. Gamwell. I will still take this up with you on purely theoretical grounds, but coming from you, this is good for some members of the black community and community of colored people here in Binghamton University who are 'looking forward enthusiastically" to your debate to explain and justify this aesthetic genocide against the black female body in our museum. I am not loking forward to that dabate because the issues are clear and becoming clear everyday. So my point: why is that when it is not about black people, there is no issue about "silencing voices" but when it is about black people and people of color, we run to grab the manstra of "rights" and "voices".

Thank you and God bless.
adeolu ademoyo

 

 

Dr. Mazrui's response to Dr. Gamwell

Date: October 18, 2006

Dr. Lynn Gamwell
Art Museum
Binghamton University

Dear Dr. Gamwell:

I am disappointed that you have decided against shortening the exhibition by a week as a gesture to so many offended colleagues and students. Because of the controversy, I suspect the exhibition has already been visited by many more viewers than there would otherwise have been. By November 9 I am almost certain there are likely to have been twice as many viewers as there would otherwise have been!! The exhibition could, therefore, easily have lessened its duration by a week after gaining such additional exposure.

However, I do want your symposium of November 9 to be a success. I agree with you that university communities should seek out avenues for thrashing out our differences with civility -- but not necessarily without passion.

Dr. Patrick Dikirr is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at my Institute. He is a Maasai -- one of the cultural groups covered by the exhibition. I have alerted him that he may hear from you about participating in the symposium on November 9, 2006. I hope he can be persuaded to discuss Maasai concepts of modesty and nudity in the context of this exhibition.

Let me now address the proposed conference in the spring on "NUDITY AND ART: COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES" -- covering the aesthetics of nudity from ancient Greece to Hindu temples, from Western nude colonies to Zulu dancers. If you and the Art School at Binghamton were prepared to be the hosting institution, this Institute would be happy to lend a hand. I could also try to solicit Cornell's participation if you regarded that as appropriate.

You and I are united in our opposition to censorship. My PBS television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, was partly censored by PBS because there was a passage regarded as offensive to Jewish Americans. In a totally reasonable context, I had described Karl Marx as "the last of the great Jewish prophets". BBC viewers in England heard me say that. So did viewers in a dozen other countries, including viewers in Israel! But PBS viewers in the United States were not permitted to hear me so describe Karl Marx because PBS was afraid of offending Jewish Americans.

Although I protested to PBS, I could understand why they were anxious not to offend such an influential television constituency. I hope in the future our museum would try its best to take into account the feelings of a far less influential constituency -- the Africanists among us. Prior consultations might have led to solutions short of censorship.

With best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Ali A. Mazrui, D.Phil. (Oxon), C.B.S.
Director
Institute of Global Cultural Studies
Binghamton University, SUNY
P.O. Box 6000
Binghamton, New York 13902-6000
Phone: (607) 777-4494
Fax: (607) 777-2642
email: amazrui@binghamton.edu
Website: http://igcs.binghamton.edu
AAM/h

 

 

Monika Brodnicka

Date: October 18, 2006

Dear Dr Gamwell,

It is probably safe to say that the Acebes Exhibition, which claims in writing to contest the misrepresentation of African women and to promote the repossession of the lens, has inevitably failed. I believe that it has failed because the images are stronger than the written disclaimers and because everybody addresses the exhibition as the presentation of “naked African women” (despite its supposed intention to criticize this colonial perspective). I have not yet read or heard anyone say that the exhibition is about the criticism of the colonialist portrayal of African women or about their engagement of the camera. What is more distressing, however, is despite the numerous expressions of indignation from a variety of scholars whose academic work revolves around this issue (specifically or in general) or from those that feel personally affected by the exhibition, you are dismissive of their concerns. By being aware of the failing message of the exhibition without taking any serious actions to address the issues raised by its critics, you consciously participate in promoting the misrepresentation of African women, and, as a result, in the racism that it perpetuates.

Sincerely,

Monika Brodnicka
PhD Student
PIC Program



 

Nasser Malit to GASO (Graduate African Student Organization)

Date: October 18, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you are doing well. I want to take this chance to let you know that l will not participate in the up-coming vigil or demonstration on Friday because of two reasons. One, l feel it is not neccessary to demonstrate when the curator of the museum and Acebes etc have agreed to talk to or with us in an open forum on November 9th. There are different ways of getting heard, you can go your way and l hope you will respect mine. I could have let you know about this position had l attended the meeting that deliberated on these issue. If the meeting had enough quorum and followed a democratic majority rule, l respect that position.

Secondly, l know one of your placards should read "Stop the Exhibit!" This again is disagreable to me because it hinges on the critical issue, very complex indeed, of sensorship. Once instituitions of higher learning welcome this sensorship senario, l don't know what will become of freedoms, not only of dispensation and acquisition of knowledge, but also spaces for critical thinking. Acebes, with its problems offers a platform for raising such critical issues. I believe many people will find this debate very informative and let them develop more critical thoughts in matters of exhibitions, presentation of knowledge and problems there-in.

I wish you well,

Nasser

 

 

Why Hector Acebes Exhibition is Offensive (Interdisciplinary Study Group on Africa-Student Organization)

Date: October 19, 2006

* Colonialist photography and slave scholarship on black people show them as naked and nude, and that the African continent is naked and nude.

* Colonialist and slave photography turn the black female body to object of sex.

* Acebes and the Binghamton university museum claim to be critical of colonialist and slave photography on black people……but, but, but, but, but.

* Ten out of the 42 photographs in the museum turn the black body into objects of sex.

* Binghamton university museum claims it would be wrong to exhibit nudity of other races, but Binghamton university museum exhibits nude black people.

* If it is wrong to exhibit nudity of other races, why is it right to exhibit nude blacks? Enough is enough please.

* We cannot tell the difference between Acebes’ nudity of blacks and colonialist, Hollywood and national geographic nudity of blacks.

* 25% of Acebes’ photos on black people feed the audience the same racist images national geographic and Hollywood images feed the audience.

* Black studies and African thought have a different view of the body, 25% of Acebes photos contradict our view of the body.

* Black people and black females do not sexualize their bodies. 25% of Acebes photos have done this.

* Black female body is beautiful, and so what? It is never an object to be preyed upon by colonialist camera lens.

* We black females do not hawk our bodies. 25% of Acebes have done this. Please you have offended us. Stop it.

* 25% of Acebes’ photographs remind us of slave photographs of black female body without the chain. Do not offend us please. Enough is enough.

* Sexualizing the black female body is not human right, it is not freedom, genocide is not a human right, and there is no freedom to murder. There is no freedom of an aesthetic genocide on the black female body.

* Museum wants a debate. Debate about how it is right to sexualize our bodies? Rubbing salt on an injury? Stop it.

* We are not against the curators; we only ask why the university should allow 25% of nudity. What kind of knowledge is passed to students? This is not the way we are. Stop it.

Produced by Binghamton university Interdisciplinary Study Group on Africa---distributed at Binghamton university campus forum/rally (against Hector Acebes exhibition), organized by Binghamton university Interdisciplinary Study Group on Africa.

 

 

Professor Dara Silberstein

Date: October 20, 2006

Dear Dr. Gamwell:

As the executive director of the women's studies program I am writing to express my deep concern about the Acebes exhibit. I share in the many sentitments that have already been expressed to you about this exhibit but, in particular, I would like to address the academic free speech arguments you have proffered in support of your decision to present this exhibit.

It is nothing short of ironic that you would apply such a defense to the exhibit. The First Amendment right to free speech only applies to those who already have the "speech" to protect. It is a prohibition against the state from exercising undue restrictions against the expression of ideas no matter how unpopular they may be. There is no doubt that the right to free speech has shielded many from the tyranny of the majority but the fact remains that it ultimately only applies to those who already are able to speak. What of those who are silenced and cannot articulate for themselves their ideas, artistic imaginings, or their humanity? The First Amendment offers them no protections. Like the women captured by the colonialists who photgraphed them as representations of "African Women" they become the objects of speech having no recourse to demand a voice or more precisely a means for articulating their own subjectivity. Moreover, it does appear that cloaking your decision to host this exhibit under the guise of free speech is somewhat disingenuous as the exhibit is framed in a way that represents the eye of the viewer without any suggestion of the positionality of the viewed. Invoking free speech arguments in this context does nothing more than reiterate the all too familiar dominant suppositions that, like the photographs in the Acebes exhibit, situate women and people of color in a framework of silence.

Finally, given the nature of this exhibit I find it surprising that you did not engage the scholarship of any of our faculty, including those affiliated with women's studies to inform the "discussion" that you should have expected would ensue.

Sincerely,

Dara J. Silberstein
Executive Director
Women's Studies Program

 

 

Adeolu Ademoyo's response to the email sent by GASO president from Dr. Gamwell (see the first commentary on this page)

Date: October 20, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

It is my hope that this meets you well. Beside serious organizational issues involved in the negotiation with the director of Binghamton University Museum which procured this tepid apology, ( given the need for "United Front" as raised by the GASO president with me on wednesday 10/18/06 at about 12noon, I will like to put aside such organizational issues and speak directly to this "apology"), I will like to say the following.

1. On a critical review of the apology, I wish to reject the apology for the following reasons.

2. Against the theme of the exhibition, the apology did not address the complete failure of knowledge and history of the African people and Black people (not a section of Africa or Black people please), which the exhibition claims to represent and thematise.

3. The exhibition claims to wish to critique colonialist photographic construct of the identity and subjectivity of African women(see Dr. Gamwell's claim about narrative framework in her apology below as sent by GASO president). Though intellectually ambiguous, the exhibition purports to use Hector Acebes tourist photo images to critique Hollywood and Colonialist photographic construct of African and black identity.

4. If point number 3 is sustained by the exhibition, the sculpted identity and subjectivity that emerged from the images in that exhibition ought to be different from colonialist sculpted and inscribed identity and subjectivity of Africans and Black people. With due respect whoever has a good sense and reading of slave and colonialist photography on Africa and Black people should please go back and see ten of this image infamy and tell us the difference(s) between these Binghamton University Museum Acebes photographs and the slave and colonialist photographs of black people. As pointed out yesterday at the INDEPENDENT campus forum on this exhibition by the African Students Organization and The Black Students Union, the ten flawed images are same slave images without the slave chain.

5. Dr. Gamwell talks about a failure of "context" apparently the view canvassed in the letter the GASO President wrote to all of us. Now let us talk about context against the background of the purported aim of the exhibition which is a passive reference to how Hollywood and National Geographic in a flawed manner framed the identity and subjectivity of Black peoples. If as Dr. Gamwell belatedly agrees the 'context" of the images is the problem with the exhibition(please let us put up our logical minds), then the images are correct represntation of African peoples, ALL we need to add is the "context". What context please? The logical deduction from this new "theory" of "context" is that the Acebes photogrpahic representations of African and Black women's subjectivity is no different from colonialist representations. If this is pluasible on the basis of the logic of Dr. Gamwell's new understanding, then why sponsor the exhibition? Second, what in the exhibition distances the Binghamton Univerisity from both Acebes and previous colonialist photographic distorted sculpting of and preying on Black female bodies, identity and subjectivity? Third , even if this new theory of 'context" is defensible, then Dr. Gamwell and the Binghamton University museum must accept a failure in conception and competence. To accept this new theory of "context" is to agree that those images in the first place correctly represent the history of Black and African peoples. This is a paradox. I refuse to accept this.

6. With due respect, I believe point 5 above is central and critical i.e the issue of "context". On this I beg to disgaree on rational engagement of the exhibition and the ten flawed images. The 'context" is not the problem for two reasons. (i) If a presumably "correct" context is added, then the whole exhibition becomes irreversibly incoherent and suffers bad internal logic and conception. That is we can no longer claim the exhibition is a "critique" of colonialist photography on Black peoples. What we have good reasons to conclude on on the basis of this internal incoherence of the exhibition is that the exhibition is an affirmation of colonialist and National Geographic representations of black people with "context". This I think is damaging to the reputation of Binghamton University Museum, and it is the problem you run into when there is poor logic and bad thinking in packaging and an obstinate refusal to accept this publicly. (ii) The second reason the context is NOT the problem is very simple and almost elementary. It is that the IMAGES and the ideological lens of the photographer is the problem. The images continue the tourist induced and hegemonic imposture on African and black history and thought(especially their conception of the BODY which does not lend itself to mutilation and preying of any sort) as pointed out in the campus forum on this exhibition organized by the African Students Organization and Black Students Union here on our campus on wednesday. Hence, the new "context" if added cannot cure the inherently defective nature of the exhibition and the photos with regard to African and Black experience.

7. There are still many problems with the theory of 'context' .If 'context" is added , One is that the images will still stand tall in this exhibition hall. In other words Acebes history will still stand tall in the hall , resolute , unblinking , and unshaken in the hall with new "context" being provided by museum guides!!!. Thus the exhibition becomes Acebes' history plus museum guides' "context". It should be obvious to any rational mind that this cooking can never equate African and Black history for the images are the problem and not a so-called 'context". Second is that we must place the new "context" against Dr. Gamwell's defence not to shut the exhibition. She had claimed that shutting the exhibition will amount to shutting down 'independent voices". As insensitive, unfortunate and incurably bad as that thinking is there is a pertinent question: will the addition of new 'context" not shut down "independent voices" who may wish to feed their eyes with skewed and sculpted "tantalizing" black bodies without the "context" . Why should we in the name of "freedom" shut down these 'independent voices" now? Don't they matter anymore in the eyes of Dr. Gamwell? Though we do not know when the addition of the new context will commence and who will bear the cost of the labor power for the new context, but will the new context not take the sail away from the November 9 debate Dr. Gamwell is organizing to crown her efforts? Is the new "context" before the 'anxioulsy" awaited Novemeber 9 still make the all 'important" November 9 relevant ?

8.Now suppose(please I say suppose, for I do not believe it has any merit) there is an iota of merit in the "argument from context" Dr. Gamwell has confessed that the museum lack expertise in this area. Deduction: (i) if you lack expertise why not search and consult just in case there are people who have the 'expertise" to provide "context". But Dr. Gamwell has claimed based on her professional practise that the Museum does not consult and does not need to consult. I leave this inconsistency to the rest of the academic community to reflect on. (ii) If Dr. Gamwell knew they needed to look for 'expertise" and did not do so , and foist untruth and a violation of knowledge on an academic community what do we call that or what can we call that? It has no other name than a joint ideological museum stance and camera lens on a peoples' history. It is a direct challenge and an unjustified unbriddled aggression by Dr. Gamwell on the multicultural foundations and interdisciplinary academic tradition of Binghamton University as I know it.

9. Dr. Gamwell claims that she is very sorry that she offended African students by displaying the exhibition. I do not believe that those she offended are primarily African students. I am a member of the Binghamton University Interdisciplinary Study Group On Africa. We are not limited by "race" in our membership. In other words we are membered not by 'race" but by focus of research. That is the beauty, strength , openess and vibrancy of the study group. Our members include "blacks" and "non-blacks" . We are very proud of this, and we defend this vigorously for Black studies -African-Carribean, African-American, African-is not genetic or phenotypic. Additionally,there are other scholars who are not in this area of study who are outraged at Binghamton University Museum failure to promote knowledge with the exhibition. In other words 'race' is not the primary issue. The primary issue is what an academic community of excellence ought to be known for . And that is the pursuit of knowledge and truth which is not ideologically goggled or trapped. Dr. Gamwell failed in this regard, hence her apology should first go to Binghamton University academic community of scholars, and NOT to African students . Second her apology should go to ALL Binghamton students who she claimed came to watch 'enthusistically" for misleading them and hawking a failure of knowledge and untruth, and who must have been captured by this failure. I maintain this position precisely because The Binghamton Interdisciplinary Group On Africa considered the exhibition primarily from its potential or lack to promote our primary focus as researchers which are truth and knowledge.

10. It is on these grounds that I say with due respect that I reject this apology. An apology should first go to the Binghamton University Community of scholars which include Black and non black. Second , if Dr. Gamwell is sincere with her apology then on rational ground, the logic of that apology means the exhibition can no longer stand. It should be shut down . We do not need tourist guides , neither do we need November 9 debate if an error of judgment and conception has been admitted by Dr. Gamwell. A failure to do this is to complete the wrecking of knowledge and truth which Dr. Gamwell commenced with the exhibition; and the wrecking of the multcultural foundation and the fine interdisciplinary academic tradition of our university as I know it. Dr. Gamwell should not be allowed to polarise our university.


Peace Profound,
adeolu ademoyo

 

 

The censorship of Azuka Nzegwu by Binghamton university

Date: October 20, 2006

I created a digital exhibition on October 20, 2006. I purposefully put the exhibition on my university personal web account at 8 a.m to limit discussion. By 12 noon, the university had shut down my website. The university went the extra step by suspending both my email and web accounts. The university claim that I violated copyright is dubious because the logos are still on the university server, and the university logo can be found on the webpages of student organizations and student personal websites.

I was without email for 3 three days. On Monday October 23, 2006, I was able to partially restore my email account. The computing center said it was an "error" that my email account, which is separate from my web account, and which has my academic materials was disabled. It is important to note that my email account, which was not accessible to anyone but me was also shut down because of copyright. My digital exhibition, which is hosted on my web account, is still suspended.

Azuka Nzegwu

 

 

Azuka's letter to the president of the university and the campus community

Date: October 22, 2006

Dear All,

On Friday, October 20, 2006, university access to a digital exhibition I curated and hosted on the Binghamton university server was shut down. In addition, my university email account, which is a direct point of communication for all my university matter was disabled. Anyone accessing the website ( http://bingweb.binghamton.edu/~anzegwu1/ ) will receive an error (see explanation below). I should state that disabling my computing accounts makes it difficult to do my academic work as a graduate student since I am unable to utilize the resources (email, web account, etc), which I pay for, and which is provided to all students.

My exhibition, "Engaging the Camera: Portraits of White Women -- Acebes Other Show" is a direct response to the official exhibition hosted by Dr. Gamwell at the university art museum. I challenged the idea of representation from the perspective of the "other" by creating a digital exhibition that accomplished what Acebes was doing in his representation of African women. The only catch was that I was representing white women. I purposefully choose to host this exhibition on the university server to limit the conversation to the campus.

It is instructive to note that university officials, who do not object to the voyeuristic and racist images of African women find it problematic when the "other" challenges the same principles on which the Acebes exhibition was based. To put it bluntly, it is fine for Dr. Gamwell to present these images of Hector Acebes as intellectual activity, but when I, as a student, an African woman, and the "other" address the very same issue in my exhibition, I am censored, silenced, and to put it crudely, obliterated from Cyberspace.

And yet, Dr. Gamwell's exhibition is still up for all to marvel about. Meanwhile, the campus newspaper, PipeDream, sings the tune of support for these depictions. In their editorial, they defend the right of free speech, the issue they claim at the center of the discussion. Ironically, as the call to close the Acebes exhibition has fallen on deaf ears, I find it remarkable at the speed that the university shut down my exhibition and email account by eliminating my freedom of expression.

Freedom of speech is something that is granted to all of us by the constitution. And yet, my freedom to express my thought as a graduate student is censored by the university. In shutting down my digital exhibition, the university has taken a disciplinary action to sanction my action. Not only have they disabled my access to my web account, they have taken the extra measure to disable my email account, thereby making it difficult to do my academic work while silencing my voice. It is disheartening that the message that is directly communicated by the university is that freedom of speech only applies if you are white or in this case, if you are Dr. Gamwell and are reproducing racist depictions of African people and culture. Unfortunately, as a female African graduate student, who have challenged Hector's exhibition by creating my own, it has become a problem to speak and act.

If you need to contact me, please use this email address since I do not have access to my university accounts.


Thank You,
Azuka Nzegwu
PhD Doctoral Candidate
Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture

 


* For those that may not understand these messages, a 403 error is a mechanism for restricting public access to web pages. Getting a 403 error is like accessing a website you have no RIGHT to access. A 404 error occurs either when a website is removed, deleted, or its name changed. No matter how many times you switch computers or browsers, you WILL never have access. All in all, a 403 or 404 error, in this case, was a calculated means by university officials to restrict access to my digital exhibition, and to silence my communication.

 

 

Jeffner Allen on silencing and listening

Date: October 22, 2006

Dear Dr. Gamwell,

I open my letter to you with a comment on Binghamton University’s silencing of Azuka Nzegwu, who has been active in discussion of the Acebes exhibit. As you may or may not be aware, Azuka’s website concerning the exhibit was taken down by the university almost instantly after the site went up and her campus email address shut down. Azuka was not informed of these events by the university. I learned of the situation Friday afternoon when, upon receiving an email in which Azuka gave a link to her page, I clicked the link only to receive a message that access to the site is forbidden.

Azuka’s multimedia work as a doctoral student in the Philosophy, Interpretation, Culture program skillfully evidences the power of images to reach into psychic crevasses that written words may gloss over. The comments in your letter to Professor Mazuri, “Since I arrived on campus in 1988 I have worked to improve the national reputation of the Binghamton University Art Museum. The moment I censor an exhibition I throw that reputation away,” highlight the seriousness of shutting down access to visual representation. Ironical, although perhaps predictable, it is that “Engaging the Camera: African Women, Portraits, and the Photographs of Hector Acebes” continues to be open in the university art museum, but the engagement with the camera by an African woman with training in art, representation and the contemporary utilization of virtual space, and in Africana studies, is censored and the student is cast out the educational community of the Binghamton internet. I hope that, as Director of the university art museum, you will be instrumental in requesting that the university reflect on its decision.

In this letter, I would like, also, to listen. You have mentioned on several occasions that you planned the exhibit in consultation with the Anderson Center’s performance of African music. If you could tell us the interconnection that you find between these two events the information might increase understanding of why you brought the Acebes exhibit to Binghamton University. I am unable, even, to find connections between the photos of Hector Acebes and those of Seydou Keita. How is it that these two exceeding disparate bodies of work—disparate in their visual perspectives and their modes of conception—inhabit the same exhibition space? A recent essay in the New York Times, “Who Owns Seydou Keita,” by Michael Rips,

[New York Times] who has written extensively on the legal dilemma and lawsuit brought on behalf of Keita’s work, may be of interest. I hope that the Keita prints on exhibit meet the copyright restrictions that are argued for. (By clicking on “Skip this ad” one will arrive at the article and a video.)

Lastly, I would like to ask for a listening to comments on the Acebes exhibit that arise from outside Binghamton University. Early in the Acebes discussions I searched in English and, since Acebes is Columbian, in Spanish, for reviews of Acebes’ photography and of the exhibit, which has shown at Spelman College and at the University of Miami. With the exception of the paragraph generated by the Acebes Archives and propagated at several sites, I found only four references.

--“Hector Acebes, El ojo de un aventurero” (“Hector Acebes, The Eye of an Adventurer”), presented by Juan Carlos Delgado at the Convocatoria del fondo para el desarrollo, 2004, appears on line, without an accompanying text. Several of the Acebes discussions at Binghamton reflect the issues that are condensed in Delgado’s title.

--“African prints: The Lowe Lectures about the Dark Continent,” by Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik, who is herself from the University of Miami gallery that hosted the exhibit www.miaminewtimes.com/search/locations.php?locationSearch=1&oid=oid:5915 offers a one paragraph framing of the exhibit, from which I excerpt a few lines: “Africa as it's rarely seen. The media’s depiction of Africa surprisingly has changed little over the past century. But Africa is so much more than the wretched images of hungry, bare-breasted women and mysteriously menacing tribesmen . . .. Expect to experience the lush culture of the motherland in all its visual and auditory glory.” The erroneous preconceptions that feed this short article from the Miami New Times, and much of the American psyche, indicate the immense task of education in the United States, and much more.

--“Two Lowe exhibits feature the many faces of Africa,” by Elisa Turner,
from the Miami Herald, January 8, 2006, [safari] offers a longer essay, fifteen paragraphs, the last three of which are devoted to the Acebes exhibit. Since the first two paragraphs merely give information about Acebes’ life, I quote only the third paragraph, in full:

“There's more than a whiff of exoticism, redolent of old National Geographic magazines, in these gleaming, sharply composed photographs by Acebes highlighting costumes and scarification patterns on skin. They primarily show women, as in Fulani (Foula) Woman, Guinea of 1953, which profiles a woman to emphasize her elaborate coiffure. Others, like the 1953 Unidentified Woman, Nigeria, show the tough beauty of a woman who seems to be squinting in the sun. Her eyes are darkened slits. Once again, we look at these glossy vintage photographs through a Western eye, seeing only hints of a reality beyond the surface.”

--Lastly, I would bring to your attention “Questionable Intent: African Portraiture Takes a Skewed View,” by Felicia Foster, who discusses Acebes’ photos in the context of the aesthetic and cultural ideology that, in part, informs Leni Reifenstahl’s photographic collection, “The Nouba.” http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A17866

Before quoting but a few lines from this essay, dated 12/16/04, which I encourage readers to consult in full, I would like to say that the critical discussion of the Acebes exhibit, at Binghamton University, is not an unusual or unique response. Your spoken comments this past week suggest that the overall Binghamton response is singular. By taking my research time to look up the few materials on the exhibit that I could locate, other than those generated by the Acebes Archives and persons associated directly with the archives, it should be evident that the responses in the Acebes discussion at Binghamton University are exceptional only in the fact that all of the participants have taken treasured time and energy to attempt a conversation of extensively developed and educational communications, which appears not to have been well listened to and to have resulted in a single action—that of the silencing of silencing Azuka Nzegwu one of the key discussion members.

Art exhibitions are an exercise in communication. A well curated exhibit may elicit much discussion. So that future exhibits at the art museum do not propagate ignorance, but rather foster innovative and reflective visual environments, as well as discussions that can make a viable difference to the Binghamton community, I urge the art museum to adopt a practice of consultation with relevant departments and individuals—for all of the museum exhibits, be the exhibits within or outside the museum staff’s areas of expertise.

Such a gathering of input is a necessary first step for bringing exhibits to campus and need not impinge on the museum’s goals.

To return to a few lines from the essay by Felicia Foster:

“Filmmaker and photographer Leni Riefenstahl took photographs of her fellow Germans at the 1934 Olympics and at Nuremberg that made them look like supermen. . . . “

“Acebes often frames his Maasai women and Nigerian grandmothers from a low angle against a blue sky, endowing them with a profundity that mimics the monumentality of Riefenstahl's athletes. But while Riefenstahl's Aryans are meant to suggest something supernatural and touched by God, Acebes' Africans are photographed against vast plains and outside simple huts in a way that defines them through their proximity to the earth. Like Riefenstahl, Acebes' legacy seems contestable. He is both admirable for his often gorgeous, formally striking portraiture of Africans, but also regrettable, for propping up a view of African women as erotic spectacles dwelling in some clothing-optional Eden. . . .”

“But like so many Western photographers before and after him (including Riefenstahl, who after her up-with-Aryan years distanced herself from the "Master Race" and took up tribal Africa as her next muse), Acebes molds Africa, especially African women, into a familiar putty: nudity and breasts galore makes the discussion of Acebes' particular artistry difficult to differentiate from the countless nudie cuties who constituted the ethnographic centerfolds of National Geographic. . . .

Sincerely,

Jeffner Allen
Professor of Phiosophy, Interpretation, Culture, of Philosophy, and of Women’s Studies

 

 

Ms. Kester emails Azuka Nzegwu (email account was already disabled before the email was sent to me)

Date: October 23, 2006

Subject: Your BINGSUNS account

Azuka,

I was at lunch when you were in the computer center looking for me. Your web site and BINGSUNS account have been locked because the web site violates the acceptable use policy. As we discussed on the phone, I am sending you the following link to the acceptable use policy, copyright policy, web policy and some others:

http://computing.binghamton.edu/policies


Cindy Kester
Assistant Director of Academic Computing
Binghamton University

 

 

Azuka's email to Mr. Reed (Vice-President of Computer Services) and Ms. Kester (Assistant Director of Academic Computing)

Date: November 2, 2006

Subject: account shut down

Dear Mr. Reed,

My account was shut down on October 20th. I need the following information:

1. What time was my account shut down?

2. Who(m) sent the order for my account to be shut down?

4. Were there a time lag when the order to shut my account came and when my account was actually shut down? For example, how long was my account shut down after the order was received?

4. Why wasn't I notified before and after my account was shut down?


The issue of copyright has been brought up. I need to know the following:

5. What copyright did I break?

6. Can you cite the exact section in the copyright policy on the computing center's website that indicates the violation that I am accused of?

6. Who reported the copyright violation of the university and the art museum to the computing center?

7. Is it the same person that reported the violation of the university logo that also reported the violation of the art museum logo?

8. What are their name(s)?

9. What is the document which I am required to sign to get my account? Are these legal documents? Are they online? Can it be sent to me via email?

I look forward to your response and to your answers to my questions.

azuka

 

 

Mr. Reed's response to Azuka's email

Date: November 5, 2006

Subject: RE: account shut down

Azuka:

As I'm sure Ms. Kester explained to you, your account and website were shut down because you were using the University's and Art Museum's logos without permission. Unless you have permission to use those and other potentially copyrighted pictures on your webpage, you are in violation of the University's copyright policy. You are also in violation of University's World Wide Web policy which says personal pages cannot be made to look like official University pages, which yours did by the use of the logos.

It is standard practice on the first offense in this type of policy violation cases to cut off the account and the website, and when the person contacts us to inform them that they must come in and sign a document that acknowledges the infraction and promises not to repeat the violation. When that is done, the account and website are restored, provided the violation is corrected.

Please contact Ms. Kester to make an appointment and sign the document and your access to your account and web page will be restored, assuming no other issues.

-Mark Reed

 

 

Azuka's response to Mr. Reed's email

Date: November 6, 2006

Subject: RE: account shut down

Mr. Reed,

I was informed that my website was shut down because I used the university and the art museum logo. It now seems there is a shift in reason. What other "potentially copyrighted pictures" are you referring to?

Since my account has been shut down since October 20, 2006, I have not received a decent explanation, nor have I been informed who gave the order to shut down my account. You did not contact my department (PIC) to inform them of the situation. In addition, I have not received any supporting evidence of the purported charge by your office. You mention copyright but you do not cite the exact violation in the copyright document that indicates what happens when university and art museum logos are used. You need to provide that information to substantiate your claim as I imagine that many personal and departmental websites that use the university logo are not shut down.

I need to know exactly the circumstance regarding the suspension of my email and web account. I need you to cite the violation I broke in the actual copyright document on the university website. I still have not received any further information from Ms. Kester, who told me on last week that she would inform me who shut down my account. From these interactions, it would seem that your office is not being upfront in disclosing the information surrounding my accounts.

I would like you to address the questions in my previous email. I cannot restore my account if the information about the shut down is not is not provided. I would also like to remind you that the shut down of my web account makes it difficult to do my academic work.

Instead of providing the usual administrative cursory remarks, I need you to answer my questions. In case you have forgotten, the questions are:


> My account was shut down on October 20th. I need the following
> information:

> 1. What time was my account shut down?

> 2. Who(m) sent the order for my account to be shut down?

> 4. Were there a time lag when the order to shut my account came and when
> my account was actually shut down? For example, how long was my account
> shut down after the order was received?

> 4. Why wasn't I notified before and after my account was shut down?

> The issue of copyright has been brought up. I need to know the
> following:

> 5. What copyright did I break?

> 6. Can you cite the exact section in the copyright policy on the
> computing center's website that indicates the violation that I am accused of?

> 6. Who reported the copyright violation of the university and the art
> museum to the computing center?

> 7. Is it the same person that reported the violation of the university logo that also reported > the violation of the art museum logo?

> 8. What are their name(s)?

> 9. What is the document which I am required to sign to get my account?
> Are these legal documents? Are they online? Can it be sent to me via email?


azuka

 

 

Ms. Kester's response to Azuka's email

Date: November 6, 2006

Subject: RE: account shut down

Azuka,

Twice you have said you want to meet with me and you have not done so. The most recent time was last Friday, Nov. 3. I told you I would be in my office after 10am. You didn't come to my office. I

I think we should set a time to meet soon. I can meet with you on Tuesday at 9am, 11am or after 2:30pm. Are you free to meet at any of those times?

Cindy

 

 

Azuka's response to Ms. Kester's email

Date: November 6, 2006

Subject: RE: account shut down

Ms. Kester,

I came to your office on Monday, October 23, 2006 after our initial phone disucssion on Friday, October 20, 2006. You never informed me during our conversation that you will not be in that Monday. I came to your office that Monday and was told that you were not in that day.

In case you have forgotten, after our discussion on Friday, Nov 3, you said you would look for the information regarding the time my account was shut down and who gave the order to do so. I still have not gotten a response from you.

The meeting you are referring to is for me to come in and sign the legal documents. As I related to Mr. Reed in my previous email, I will not sign any documents until all my questions in the email are addressed, and second, until all the information about the supension of both my email and web accounts are disclosed.


azuka


 

Ms. Kester's response to Azuka's email

Date: November 6, 2006

Subject: RE: account shut down

Azuka,

It is not our practice to reveal the identity of the person who reported the infraction. Your page violates the University's web policy; that is what matters.

The web policy is online at http://urel.binghamton.edu/webrules.html.

General guideline 3 states:

"3. The University recognizes the difference between official and unofficial (or personal) pages. Official pages represent the University and its programs. Personal pages should not give the impression that they are representing, giving opinions or otherwise making statements on behalf of the University. All pages by students or student groups are considered personal pages. All unofficial pages should carry the following disclaimer:

"The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the page developers and not necessarily those of Binghamton University. Any comments on the contents of this page should be directed to its developers." "

Cindy Kester


 

Graduate Student Association forum (Colonialism, Photography and Africa) on Acebes exhibition

Date: November 6, 2006

In light of the current controversy surrounding the university art museum exhibit, "Engaging the Camera: African Women, Portraits and the Photographs of Hector Acebes", we are inviting you to speak at an open forum, to be held Wednesday evening (11/8) at 7pm in the Mandela Room, organized by a concerned group of students.

We feel that it is absolutely necessary to continue a dialogue on the exhibit. The issue, like so many in broader US politics, has very quickly become two-sided (that of free speech/keep the exhibit open versus censorship/close the exhibit). University administrators have been rather silent about the exhibit and when they have spoken, they have failed to listen and work with the concerns of the students. In addition, students have been explicitly denied a presence on the panel taking place on Thursday (11/9) involving the curators of the exhibit. We strongly feel that this is inappropriate conduct on a university campus that functions as a space in which intellectual work should continually be fostered.

The format of the open forum we invite you to join will include a moderator. It is our hope that a variety of perspectives be shared by inviting various representatives of student organizations and faculty, some of whom have previously articulated their thoughts and expertise on the issues surrounding the exhibit.

Stand up and let your voices be heard!

In a collaborative spirit,

Graduate Student Organization (GSO)

 

 

Update on the university censorship of Azuka Nzegwu

Date: November 13, 2006

Three weeks and 3 days later:

My email is partially working. My exhibition is still down. My web account is still suspended.


Azuka Nzegwu