"DETERMINANT INDETERMINACIES - ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS OF A SENEGALESE SUFI SAINT"
Allen F. Roberts, UCLA
Part of the Silsila Fall 2020 Lecture Series, Islam in Africa: Material Histories
The materiality of devotional images contributes to efficacies of aura and reciprocities of visual piety necessary to the production of personal and community histories. The only known photograph of Sheikh Amadu Bamba (1853-1927) was taken in 1913 as a colonial surveillance instrument. Its shadowy shapes suggest calligraphy, for Allah inscribed the saint’s face as He does everyone’s; yet different readings are always possible. The photograph is an active icon even as graffiti, for its divine signs (aya) render its indeterminacy determinant. Indeed, Bamba conveys Allah’s baraka blessings through his portrait to embrace, protect, and promote the righteousness of all faiths and backgrounds. Attention will also be given to discovery in May 2020 of an unknown French snapshot that may portray the saint.
Allen F. Roberts is Distinguished Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA, and an editor of the journal African Arts. His scholarly projects include “A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal” (2003), a major traveling exhibition and book program co-researched, curated, and written with his late spouse, WAC Professor and museum professional, Dr. Mary “Polly” Nooter Roberts (1959-2018).