The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined

  • Posted: Aug 1, 2017

Eleanor Xiniwe, The African Choir. London, 1891. By London Stereoscopic Company ©Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
Songs composed and arranged by Philip Miller & Thuthuka Sibisi

Curated by Renée Mussai

Iziko South African National Gallery

09 August – 13 November 2017

The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined is a contemporary multimedia installation based on The African Choir’s first tour to Victorian England in 1891. The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined was first shown at Autograph ABP, London in 2016 and is a collaboration between Autograph ABP and Tshisa Boys Productions. It premieres in South Africa at the Iziko South African National Gallery on National Women’s Day and will feature guest presentations by the creators of the exhibition.

The installation features five re-created songs by the composers Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi, drawn from an original nineteenth-century concert programme. They are presented together with twenty photographic portraits of the choir members.

Drawn from various mission stations and church choirs in the Eastern Cape, including graduates from Lovedale College, the original sixteen-member ensemble included seven men and seven women, plus two children. They toured Britain and the USA between 1891- 93, ostensibly raising funds to build a technical college. They performed to great acclaim to large audiences, and before Queen Victoria in the summer of 1891.

Although the original performances were never recorded, composers Miller and Sibisi, working with fifteen young singers in Cape Town over a period of two years, recreated the repertoire and crafted a powerful and intimate sonic experience. In partnership with Autograph ABP, this has recently been developed into a CD.

The portraits of the choir members, made in July 1891 by the London Stereoscopic Company, are modern silver gelatin prints printed from vintage glass plates. The latter were rediscovered by Autograph ABP at the Hulton Archive (a division of Getty Images), after laying dormant for 125 years. The portraits were first exhibited to critical acclaim in 2014. Based on research to date, they represent the most comprehensive body of portraits depicting Africans in Victorian London.

This exhibition is a culmination of projects which connect the composers with the curatorial research led by Renée Mussai as part of Autograph ABP’s on-going Black Chronicles/The Missing Chapter archive research programme. Together, they form an artistic representation that humanises and gives voice to an important episode in both British and South African history long unknown by contemporary audiences, intimately linked to wider politics of empire, expansion and imperial narratives.

As part of its National Women’s Day programme and this exhibition opening, Iziko will facilitate a public discussion at the Iziko South African National Gallery on the 9th of August at 1pm. Curator Renée Mussai(Autograph ABP) and composers Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi (Tshisa Boys Productions) will present on their collaboration and other on-going research projects.

A site-specific, multimedia installation will overlap with the exhibition premiere at ISANG, as part of the Centre for Humanities Research’s conference (of the University of the Western Cape) taking place at the Castle of Good Hope. This digital installation will be presented at the Cape Town Civic Centre Main Concourse daily between 8am and 5pm. The Centre for Humanities Research will also host a composers’ introductory session at the Civic Centre Concourse between 5pm and 6pm on the 10th August 2017.

  • Autograph ABP is a London-based arts charity that works internationally in photography and film, race, representation, cultural identity and human rights.
  • Presented at the South African National Gallery (ISANG) by Autograph ABP and Tshisa Boys Productions, in partnership with Iziko Museums of South Africa.
  • The South African tour of this exhibition is supported by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC).
  • On exhibition at the IZIKO South African National Gallery until 13 November 2017.
  • Following on the installations in Cape Town, the exhibition will travel to Johannesburg to the Apartheid Museum and the FADA Gallery, where it will be hosted by the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD) at the University of Johannesburg. 




Issued by: Kim Lindeboom, Communications Coordinator

Iziko Museums of South Africa
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 481 3874
Cellphone: 083 356 6043                  

On behalf of: Office of the CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa


Notes to editor:

Choir members such as Charlotte Maxeke, her sister Katie Makanya (both née Manye), and Paul Xiniwe later became leading social activists and reformers in South Africa.


About Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko)

Iziko operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at, join our online community on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions.



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