African History goes Public

a joint exhibition project on Namibia's liberation history

Description of the project

"Posters in the Struggle"
Images and audiences in the history of Namibia's liberation
Exhibition of the History Department of the University of Basel with collections of the Basler Afrika Bibliographien

Students and teachers from Basel and Namibia are jointly producing an exhibition on aspects of African visual history and the visual history of the Swiss solidarity movement

Keywords: African visual history, public history, war of liberation, Swiss solidarity movement, research partnership, exhibition, research trip of students

Background to the Project

The project comprises a research seminar at the Department of History (University of Basel) for two terms (2005/05), an exhibition, a research trip and the exchange between working groups in Basel and Namibia. The lecturers in Basel are Giorgio Miescher (lic.phil.) and Dr. Dag Henrichsen, historians who have been working on African history for many years.

The project is a continuation of courses given by both lecturers in conjunction with the Chair of African History (Prof. Dr. Patrick Harries) on visual historical sources and African history.

In Namibia, the working group is lead by Dr. Jeremy Silvester who for many years was connected to the Department of History at the University of Namibia and since 2005 is project coordinator for the Museums Association of Namibia in Windhoek.

Theme: African posters - history

African posters are regarded as unusual in an European context, with regard to their format, the images, the iconography, the themes or the events. They not only are stuck on house walls but are also hung up in refugee camps. They not only mobilise for elections but also explain the voters registration process. They advertise beer and hairstyles. In the past they mobilised against colonialism and today against Aids or corruption. In the European context African posters are often regarded as art. They are, however, also important historical sources, the potential of which still needs to be understood more fully.

The exhibition takes the history of Namibia's liberation between the early 1960s and 1990s as its example in order to assess the various roles of posters as a medium of mobilisation, of advertising and propaganda. Which themes and opinions were propagated visually in public spaces in a country seeking independence from South Africa? What were the colonial forms of advertising? How was the Namibian conflict visually represented in an international context?

How did Switzerland visualise the African continent, how did the Swiss solidarity movement and international organisations in Geneva, or South African representatives in Switzerland, deal with the conflict(s) in Southern Africa?

All these organisations and institutions, whether in Windhoek, Oniipa, London, Cape Town, Luanda, Geneva or Basel, produced visual materials on a large scale, like posters, newspapers, books, stickers, photographs, etc. Their production clearly indicates how intensely history was constructed in public spaces and for the purpose of mobilisation. African history went public during the period of liberation.

The exhibition & the working groups

The exhibition in Basel is produced by 13 students from the History Department of the University of Basel. One student, Anna Vögeli, could work in the National Archives of Namibia from October onwards and catalogued a larger part of the poster collection there. Her work is essential for the whole project. The Basel exhibition will be conceptualised by designer Marcel Goering (Druckwerkstatt).

In Namibia the working group consists of students from the University of Namibia and the Academy of the Arts, besides curators from various museums and archives. Jeremy Silvester, the coordinator of the group, visited Basel in January in order to discuss the joint exhibition project. The Namibian exhibition is expected to start in late August, first in Windhoek, then travelling to Oshakati in northern Namibia.

Both working groups have established a internet platform for mutual discussions. The Basel designer Marcel Goering has joined the exhibition team and we are happy to know that im May four members of the Namibian group will join us in Basel aswell. They are Timotheus Mashuna, Naitsi Iizyenda, Martha Akawa and Jeremy Silvester.

You may download the description of the project here.

Continuation of Project

The research groups in Basel and Windhoek are currently (2007) working on the data and research results collected in 2006. It is the intention to publish them in a monograph entitled 'Posters in Action' (2008), edited by Giorgio Miescher, Lorena Rizzo and Jeremy Silvester. The Museums Association of Namibia and the National Art Gallery, both in Windhoek, are our Namibian partners. For more information contact Giorgio Miescher or Dag Henrichsen.