African Women in the Frame, 1870 to the Present

Exhibition Dates: November 15, 2018 – February 7, 2019
Selections from The McKinley Collection
Curated by Catherine E. McKinley & Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

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.

About the Curators

Catherine E. McKinley received a recent M.A. in Art from New York University and is engaged in Museum Education and curatorial projects. A Fulbright Scholar in Ghana, West Africa, she is the author of several critically acclaimed works of literary nonfiction, most notably Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World and The African Lookbook, forthcoming from Bloomsbury (2020), which examines fashion in many of the images in The McKinley Collection.
Laylah Amatullah Barrayn is an award-winning documentary and portrait photographer working in the medium for 20 years. She has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. Barrayn is the co-author of MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora. It is the first publication in nearly 30 years that features photography produced by women of African descent.