Imaging struggles between Luanda and New York: On Stan Douglas’s project Disco Angola (2012)

This paper discusses the recent project Disco Angola (2012) by Canadian photographer Stan Douglas, in which a fictional photojournalist travels back into the past in order to capture Angola and New York in the mid-1970s. I will assess the aesthetic, theoretical and political stakes of this staged historical juxtaposition between the underground disco culture in a Manhattan on the verge of financial bankruptcy, and the euphoria of a recently independent Luanda about to tumble into civil war. In which ways are these two places actually bound to each other? What does it mean to reactivate that hinge moment in history today, when the global capitalist economy and Western colonialism in Africa faced a unique crisis?

I will assess both the limitations and potentialities of this aesthetic wager to unearth forgotten emancipatory moments that weigh heavy in current political timescapes, and whose crucial global interconnectedness has been disavowed in historical accounts. Neglected historical documentation will be used to throw into relief the unstudied shared legacies, entangled histories, and activist solidarities between Angola and the US in the 1970s, along a theoretical discussion about the radical epistemological attempts to envision a multidirectional past cutting across multiple times and spaces, to imagine a present more inclusive than the one we currently inhabit.

About the Author

Afonso Ramos (Lisbon, 1987) graduated in History of Art from Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and was an Erasmus student at Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV). He worked at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Modern Art Centre in Lisbon, and holds an MA in History of Art from University College London (UCL), where he is currently a funded PhD candidate working about contemporary art, with a particular focus on transnational relations between war and photography hinged around Angola. His interests focus mainly on visual studies, photography theory, and colonial history, fields on which he has published papers, including most recently ‘Angola 1961, o horror das imagens’ in Filipa Vicente (ed.), O Império da Visão (Edições 70: 2014), or ‘Photography and Propaganda in the Portuguese Colonial Empire: Volkmar Wentzel’s Assignments for National Geographic Magazine’ in Chandrika Kaul (ed.), Portuguese Media and Empire (Palgrave: forthcoming).


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