The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa, Saïdou Dicko, Sammy Baloji, Mohamed Camara, George Osodi, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN

In a Show of African Portrait Photography, the Figure Fades Away The exhibition looks beyond the horizon of defining an African identity, beyond the notion of authentically representing what this identity is supposed to be, as both local and foreign photographers have sought to do.



Luvo Manyonga has already created my favourite story of the year but, on a gentle summer afternoon in Pretoria, the South African long jumper is just getting started. At the Rio Olympics in August, Manyonga conjured up a dizzying leap when he transformed the desperate grind of poverty and drug addiction into a beautifully shiny silver medal and soothing redemption. It proved he had overcome the bleak hold that crystal meth once exerted over his township life.

Manyonga now looks like a million dollars. He might be wearing only a vest, shorts and flip-flops but he gleams with health at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre – 900 miles from the meth dens of Mbekweni in the Cape. Manyonga talks with a Bolt-like conviction which only a gifted young athlete can carry off with style when he smiles as easily as this reborn Olympian.

“I can be the best jumper in the world right now,” the 25-year-old says with an assured grin. “It won’t take me long. By next year you will see flames.”


A former Irish street-sweeper and Coney Island strongman has played a significant role in this incredible story. John McGrath went “looking for Luvo” in 2013, at a time when Manyonga was a lost soul and few people outside his family seemed to care whether the athlete survived. McGrath eventually tracked him down and, after a few hard years of working together, Manyonga found the strength within himself to start jumping again.

I had spent the previous day with McGrath and Manyonga’s family in Mbekweni – an hour’s drive from Cape Town. I tell Manyonga now that, before I left the township, McGrath said he was certain his friend would become the greatest long jumper in history. “Yes, I believe that,” Manyonga says. “I was born in 1991 – the same year the [current] world record was set [8.95m by Mike Powell]. So I think it is a calling for me.”

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa, Saïdou Dicko, Sammy Baloji, Mohamed Camara, George Osodi, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMNPhoto | Courtesy of the artist and Z Photographic, ltd., photo by the author for Hyperallergic

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa, Saïdou Dicko, Sammy Baloji, Mohamed Camara, George Osodi, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMNPhoto | Courtesy of Saïdou Dicko

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa, Saïdou Dicko, Sammy Baloji, Mohamed Camara, George Osodi, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMNPhoto | Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Pierre Brullé

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa, Saïdou Dicko, Sammy Baloji, Mohamed Camara, George Osodi, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMNPhoto | Courtesy of the artist and Axis Gallery, NY/NJ

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives In Photographic Portraiture From Africa, Saïdou Dicko, Sammy Baloji, Mohamed Camara, George Osodi, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMNPhoto | James Oatway for the Guardian



The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery advances Columbia University’s historical, critical, and creative engagement with the visual arts. Serving as both a laboratory and a forum, The Wallach Art Gallery offers opportunities for curatorial practice and discourse, while bridging the diverse approaches to the arts at the University with a welcome broader public. (The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery)