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'Selling the Shadow' featured in ARTTHROB

Exerts from To Support the Substance: ‘Selling the Shadow’ at MOMO By Amie Soudien in ARTTHROB, December 7, 2016. Read full article at

Sojourner Truth’s carte-de-visite is a compelling premise for an exhibition. Also known as a ‘calling card’, the carte-de-visite was a photograph mounted on stiff card of a small, standard format. This kind of photograph was relatively cheap to reproduce, and during the height of its popularity in the 1860s, individuals would distribute these portraits of themselves to family and friends through personal interactions or in the post. Celebrities and public figures would also use the carte-de-visite as a means of disseminating their image.

A runaway slave who forged her own path as a key figure in women’s rights and the abolition of slavery in the United States, Truth is engrained in the mythology of the struggle for American civil rights. Her decision to create and multiply her own image through the use of the carte-de-visite was strategic, and employed full use of the technology of the time. Truth would distribute and sell her own photographic portrait to further the slavery abolition cause during the American Civil War. Considering this action offers us the opportunity to think of agency and self-representation not in hypothetical terms, but through actualised events in history.

In one particular carte-de-visite, created in 1864, a sepia-toned stark-faced Truth sits next to a table with a bundle of wool. A bonnet covers her head. Accompanying her portrait the text reads, ‘I sell the shadow to support the substance,’ the phrase of which was adapted as the title of Ayana V Jackson’s curated exhibition at Gallery MOMO. Jackson has used this image as a point of departure to explore the realm of activism and responsibility, the image and its consumption. A collection of ten video pieces are screened simultaneously in Gallery MOMO’s video room, curated by Detroit-based Ingrid Lafleur.

Born and educated in the United States, Jackson has worked in a number of other African countries, notably Ghana. ‘Selling the Shadow’ allows audiences a rare opportunity to see contemporary African art otherwise not commonly exhibited in Cape Town. However, despite the inclusion of artists from elsewhere in Africa, the exhibition has a distinct American presence, owing in part to the exhibition’s thematic protagonist Sojourner Truth, and a recurring evocation of American history.

A man was lynched by police yesterday (2015) by Dread Scott is a flag that draws its form directly from the flag hung from the offices of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) on Fifth Avenue, New York, during the 1920s and 30s. Displayed the day after a racially-motivated murder, the original flag simply read ‘A man was lynched yesterday.’ In this, Scott plainly compares the lynchings of black Americans during the early 20th century with the current public exposure of police violence.


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