AFRICAN CEREMONIES ARCHIVE
The Photographic Legacy of Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher
by WILL CHANNING
The African Ceremonies Archive is the world’s most extensive photographic archive of traditional African cultures and ceremonies. Beckwith and Fisher each have committed 45 years of research and documentation, in 48 African countries; including, over a half million photographs; over one thousand hours of video footage; 200 illustrated journals; four traveling exhibitions and field drawings covering the continent.
African Ceremonies is a charity whose mission is to preserve Africa's heritage by documenting its cultural traditions, ceremonies, rituals and art forms.
The goal is to preserve the strength, essence, and spirited creativity of African cultures for the history of mankind and the education of future generations. It will also serve as a foundation for permanent exhibitions and relevant educational opportunities worldwide, thereby supporting and promoting the preservation of African cultures at this uncertain time in our history. Imagine a compendium of human creativity in Africa which presents the importance of ancient wisdom in the modern age.
With 40% of the ceremonies, recorded since the late 1970s, now vanished, there is a current necessity to continue to document the remaining traditional cultures which still exist and are yet to be archived. That need is being met as Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher are fully committed to continue in the field and further document traditional African Peoples. Their photographic contributions to the ethnography, sociology and cultural anthropology of these peoples are unparalleled. They are dedicated to making this existing archive available to the world-at-large to benefit students of African heritage; cultural identity; music; dance; theater; art and design; jewelry; environmental studies; conflict management and other areas of study.
This tremendous effort, over four decades, has taken these two visionary women over 300,000 miles on camels, mules, canoes, 4 x 4s, and on foot. They have lived for weeks and even months with some 150 different ethnic groups. They have absorbed life in remote villages looking from the inside out, with their fingers o the pulse of the communities.
Their fascinating stories and photos are published in 17 color illustrated books documenting their work in Africa.
Beckwith and Fisher have won numerous awards, including the United Nations Award for Excellence for their double volume set ‘African Ceremonies’. They won the Annisfield-Wolf Book Award twice and have been honored by the Royal Geographic Society, London; and WINGS WorldQuest, amongst other accolades. There are 513,575 total transparencies currently in the Archive.
Commercial and licensing opportunities of this extensive archive are an asset for the future host institutions of the archive and will help to sustain the ‘Collection’. Aspects have already been utilized commercially for the movies ‘Lion King’ and ‘Black Panther’; and by fashion designers; Ralph Lauren, Issey Miyake and Donna Karan.
The Archive was appraised by a professional well known in the Field back in 2008. Since then Beckwith and Fisher have completed 29 field trips; published 3 books, including 'African Twilight’, a double volume; produced the ‘African Twilight’ museum exhibition; completed 15 short videos; created 3 new illustrated lectures; taken 267,302 digital images; and, recorded videos of 16 cultural groups.
The distinct honor of participating in the preservation and future use of such an historic archive is monumental. One may imagine students doing a DNA test and tracing their ancestry to a cultural area which is recorded in this archive, with photos and videos of their original ancestral lands and customs.
Here is what Angela and Carol have to share with us:
“Beyond safely storing and preserving the physical and digital archive in a dynamic institution, it is of deep importance to us that the potential of its contents be realized.
We will give our time to provide anthropological and anecdotal information that will bring to life the stories of the people and cultures with whom we have worked for so long, opening up the world for scholarly and general interest audiences.
We will help construct an Africa Online Museum of our work, available and free to access. This will act as a repository of the work, so that future generations of Africans, and all others interested worldwide, may explore their cultural heritage, but also function as a museum exhibition, using the possibilities of digital technologies to bring these cultures to life for new audiences.
We will help create a cultural arts program of touring exhibitions, lectures, speakers and performances inspired by the archive.”
Suffice to say, this unique project is an incredible first-hand opportunity to engage with the preservation of African heritage and culture.
It is a gift which establishes cultural identity for those who have lost touch with their African roots. At a time of need for social cohesion and purpose, the archive imparts the cultural lessons and wisdom of traditional peoples to a younger generation – opening the hearts and minds and souls of each and every one of us to this great land of the origin of humankind.
Please submit queries and questions about the acquisition of the archive to:
Will Channing. +1.505.780.0078 or firstname.lastname@example.org