Figure as Index
Emphasizing the process of photography as a collaborative endeavour, Luther Konadu’s ongoing documentary practice features his close family of friends creating intimate portraits. The Winnipeg-based artist and writer uses visual strategies of layering and collage to encourage a slow, careful reading. His images that evolve from this performative process are presented as murals within the active social space of Harbourfront Centre.
An ongoing project since 2015, Figure as Index portrays Konadu’s diasporic community as one that is always in flux. By re-photographing, casually taping, and fragmenting images, he signals that these works are part of something more expansive that continues to unfold. His images reflect upon the problematic history of the documentary subject, and highlight the incomplete nature of photographs. In the following essay, Konadu writes about the concept of community and his approach to portraiture:
At their best, community centres are hubs for refuge, offering ongoing accommodation for cultural, educational, and civic welfare. They unite various neighbourhoods and their differing members, and foster mutual understanding, care, and shared experiences among a cross-section of groups and organizations. They also illuminate how our individual selves are always a result of the social relationships we make and hold onto. For a city like Toronto, with its complex and ever-expanding population, neighbourhoods, and communities, community centres need to continually attune to their mixed demographics, discover their social needs, and provide opportunities to meet them. Harbourfront Centre—where my installation is positioned—is one of these spaces.
The studio environment is a space for thinking, testing, and refining one’s work within an artistic routine. In my own photographic practice the studio is more than a workplace. Beyond its function as a space of image production it is, more importantly, an intermediary where individual paths intersect and vulnerabilities merge. My studio is a site where the beginnings of friendships are made, where catch-ups are held, where we reciprocate favours, where we hear one another out, where we collaborate, receive feedback and dissent. It is a place where existing friendships are further strengthened and where commonalities with mutual acquaintances are deepened. In the studio we discover that we share overlapping, intricate experiences that reach beyond what others outside of ourselves may see of us. Above all, I see the studio as a vehicle that allows for and sustains the strength of my own family of accumulated friendships. My studio, albeit a personal space, serves as a centre for community, one not unlike Harbourfront Centre where those with interweaving identities can present themselves as a collective while eschewing a singular voice.
I work within a medium contoured by the wide umbrellas of colonial and imperial forces, which since its very beginnings have widely contributed to and vivified how we “understand” the peoples, places, and events distant to our immediate lives. In many dispossessed and colonized societies—like the majority on the African continent, including Ghana, where my family is from—colonial rulers employed photography to document many of these communities for anthropological study, administrative purposes, or for religious missionary activities. These images framed the peoples as a suffering, uncivilized other in need of saving.
With the rise of expedition photography, photojournalism, documentary photography, and the news, media publications in the West sought to bring the realities of the broader world to the lives of those whose comfortable experiences couldn’t be farther removed. The agency of those portrayed in these images was often scant and, as such, journalists and editors could shape and reiterate the frequently sensationalistic narratives they wanted to give the public. Photography continues to play an active role in monopolizing social opinion, cultural imagination, the nature of remembering, preferred (misconstrued) narratives, and what we have come to collectively agree to as “common sense.” I contend closely with the knowledge of this fraught legacy in my work as well as the power that comes with narration through camera images. I make work that seeks an alternative to group photography. My approach is critical of the medium’s history and at the same time unburdened by it. Over the last six years, I’ve been participating and imaging along with the African diasporic community I slowly formed on Treaty One. As a diasporic body on colonized lands, forming community is an intentional and deliberate act. It is the family one cultivates and sustains when their biological ones aren’t near. I am fortunate to participate within a community that embraces my intentions for my work and the contagious possibilities of imaging ourselves in our own accordance.
Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein
Presented in partnership with Harbourfront Centre