Aunty!, opening on November 15 at the United Photo Industries Gallery in Brooklyn, features a trove of original archival, vintage, and contemporary images from the The McKinley Collection, a repository of rare, original images ranging from portraiture to cartes de visite, spanning the African continent from Morocco to South Africa, Guinea to Kenya, Madagascar to Benin, from the 1870s to now.
Curated by Catherine E. McKinley and Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, this exhibition from the collection of McKinley, centers images of African women and engages with the nuances of the “Aunty” as both a colonial construction and honorific of African womanhood.
This exhibition takes up the idea and figure of the Aunty and the duality of this naming. At once an expression of love and affection, Aunty is an honorific across most Black world cultures, a recognition of a feminine power rooted in indigeneity. As powerfully, it connotes the violence of the original colonial construction of the word: the corporeal, dark, servile figure, buffoonish in her role of colonial nurse. It is also a name burdened by African and Diaspora grapplings with gender and often troubling constructions of motherhood, sexuality, etc.
In these 100 plus images, we look at Auntys through the troubling lens of colonialism, including a few earlier photographic images of the late 1890s, and also the colonial and postcolonial lens of African male photographers, to vernacular images of post-Independence partygoers and studio sittings, to Zina Saro Wiwa (UK/Nigeria), Patricia Coffie (Ghana/USA) and Fatoumatou Diabite’s (Mali) contemporary renderings. For McKinley and Barrayn, Aunties is an attempt to look head-on at the beauty of the images and also their more often discomfiting legacies, and the moments where the subjects look back at the viewer reassuringly, with a sense of control of her image, and pleasure in herself.