The exhibition Urban Cadence focused on photographs of two twenty-first century cities: Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, South Africa. The Gund Gallery of Oberlin College in Gambier, Ohio was filled with over sixty artworks by nine photographers (Fig. 1).
Magee cultivated the motif of the cadence throughout the exhibit. Upon entering the freestanding Gund Gallery, built in 2011, the viewer was met with a monitor silently screening a playlist of Nigerian and South Africa music videos with headphones attached. At the back of the exhibit, a resource room contained books, as well as headphones and tablets providing access to various historical and contemporary genres of popular music across Africa. Thus, the exhibition was buttressed at each end with music.
Through comprehensive wall labels, Magee developed variants on the cadence theme with references to with references to visual rhythms, stillness, frenzy, and ebb and flow of movement within the cityscapes. Some works even evoked a cadence of dislocation and silence. In Sabelo Mlangeni's Invisible Women series (2006) we saw calm, empty, abandoned streets and skyscrapers of Johannesburg during the night, save for a female labor force unseen by the general population. The wall text notes that these unidentifiable women, covered in layers of clothing to protect themselves from dust and dirt, carried brooms, garbage bags, gloves, and snuff for their fleeting moments of leisure. The “invisible women” cleaned the streets of Johannesburg after the city's apartheid era employees had transited back to townships.
Cadence as rhythm and movement played out in networks of commodity exchange and market economies. Inspired by and aware of no other black superheroes besides the Black Panther character, musician Keziah Jones brought to life the energetic Lagosian Captain Rugged with graphic novelist Native Maqari and photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi (2013). Donning a billowing cape and bug-eyed sunglasses, this superhero's navigation of good and bad was not clear cut, but traversed a complicated, corrupt terrain. The fast-paced cadences leaping out of the photographic frames proved disorienting. Which mega-city are we, as gallery visitors, in? The site in the tiny town of Gambier could be challenging to reconcile with the exhibition's effective city imagery.
Lining the street in the right-hand side of the Captain Rugged 7 image in Amadi-Obi's Captain Rugged series were mannequins with brown skin, or white skin and blonde hair, that marketed Western-style clothing. The absurdity of white mannequins, used also in the factory-laden city of Guangzhou, China, was a theme directly focused upon in Uche Okpa-Iroha's League of Gentlemen (Isolated series) (2011). In this photographic series six mainly white mannequins are positioned in two rows (Fig. 2). The independently owned shops captured by these two photographers contrasted with the upscale wealth shown in the parking lot of Maponya Mall Old Postchestroom Road, Kliptown (2010). Expensive cars parked in a concrete-laid, electrically lit parking lot were part of Jodi Bieber's exploration of a post-apartheid Soweto designed for mainly black indigenous South African shoppers.
Magee reminded us through her selections that water and waterways are also a component of these contrasting cities. For Akintunde Akinleye's photograph of Old Lagos Beach (2011), Magee descriptively mapped the geography of Lagos in her didactic label and selections, revealing that the city originated on islands and spread to the mainland, replete with lagoons and bridges, all encompassed by the Atlantic Ocean. Akinbode Akinbiye's work framed this body of water with a camera angle, pointed downward to feet and the littoral in Bar Beach, Victoria Island (2006). The ebb and flow of the waves against the sand and the blowing wind were a cadence that coalesced with belonging, as seen by clustered groups of people along the sand of the popular beachfront. Similarly, moments of play, leisure, and youth were captured in Jodi Bieber's Orlando West Swimming Pool, Orlando West (2009) (Fig. 3). Once a site of apartheid resistance, portions of Soweto such as those seen in this photograph conveyed an upscale, new South Africa.
The film Viva Illusion? (2016) by Jude Anogwih also took place on the water. The soundscape of the film supplied the context of urbanity on water, including voices, conversations, vessel traffic, maritime livelihood, and children playing. With the camera on a boat in Makoko-iwaya, Anogwih focused her lens on the water to reveal reflections of piers, docks, and passing boats. We witnessed fishing line, brightly colored garbage including candy wrappers, leaves, and abstracted colors amidst ripples and gentle currents.
Several photographs illustrated the city in flux, reconstruction, and renewal. Sabelo Mlangeni's Casa di Arbiter on Rissik Street (2009) depicted a milled street ready for repaving (Fig. 4). Rather than ruin or decay, the photo showed a new construction project. Magee's fieldwork has involved researching the cities’ urban policies and planning, the processes of which can be recognized in the photographs. Uche Okpa-Iroha's Old and New (Isolated Series) (2011) depicted an inhabitant's address as “NEW 12 OLD 13” in order to manage the Lagos housing agency's address reorganization (Fig. 5).
The exhibition contributed to studies of contemporary African art, African cities, art and architectural history, spatial studies, and mobility theory. In denying the stereotypical trappings of poverty or slums, the artworks re-imagined what Nutall and Mbembe explained as, “Ways of seeing and reading contemporary African cities [that] are still dominated by the metanarrative of urbanization, modernization, and crisis” (Nuttall and Mbembe 2008: 5). Rather, the images offered what Garth Myers recommended, “a revision—a seeing again, and a revising—of how cities in Africa are discussed and written about in both urban studies and African studies” (2011: 2). Indeed, within Magee's exhibition, the circulation of people, class, capital, visual culture, leisure, and labor complexly intertwined with layers of history and contemporaneity. A means for building upon concepts within Urban Cadence can be found in the Bright Continent Project. Art historian Kathy Curnow at Cleveland State University implemented a crowd-sourced digital humanities archive that maps African cities, built form, urban design, public arts, and landscaping at http://access.thebrightcontinent.org. How might the discipline of African art history continue to incorporate African cities, spatial culture, and the urbanscape into its studies?