Over the past two months, the Iziko South African National Gallery has been enveloped by the melodic sounds of The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined. This exhibition is a contemporary multi-media installation based on The African Choir’s first tour to Victorian England in 1891. Visiting this exhibition takes one to a place of solace as you listen to the five songs re-created by composers Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi. The music is drawn from an original 19th-century concert programme. Twenty black-and-white portraits of the original choir members identify the artists, bringing to life the sombre walls and giving voice to the sounds of the choir.
The portraits of the choir members, produced in July 1891 by the London Stereoscopic Company, are modern silver gelatin prints printed on vintage glass plates. The latter were rediscovered by Autograph ABP at the Hulton Archive (a division of Getty Images) 125 years after the choir toured England. The portraits were first exhibited to critical acclaim in 2014. South African composers Miller and Sibisi managed to re-imagine and produce the sounds of the original choir from the concert programme.
The original choir members 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. On visiting the exhibition one may ask – what happened to these people? Surprisingly, one of the members, Charlotte Maxeke neѐ Manye was one of the first black South African women to obtain a university degree. She was also one of the first Black South African activists to fight for freedom from exploitative and social conditions of African women. Another member of the choir also sparks interest because he is the only member whose identity is unknown.
The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined will be exhibited until the end of October 2017, before it moves to Johannesburg. The exhibition was first shown at Autograph ABP, London in 2016, and is brought to Iziko in collaboration with Autograph ABP and Tshisa Boys Productions.
Link to video: HERE