Critics’ Picks

Stephen Goldblatt, Okonkwo, the tragic hero, Nigeria, 1970. Film still from Things Fall Apart, directed by Jason Pohland.

Stephen Goldblatt, Okonkwo, the tragic hero, Nigeria, 1970. Film still from Things Fall Apart, directed by Jason Pohland.

Kampala

“Film Stills by Stephen Goldblatt”

Uganda Museum
5 Kira Road
October 27–December 12, 2021

Fifty years after the 1971 film adaptation of Things Fall Apart was first screened in Bonn, Germany, Nigerian-born, Berlin-based photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi and Gisela Kayser, the artistic director of the Freundeskreis Willy-Brandt-Haus, have joined forces to curate a show of production film stills taken by Stephen Goldblatt. Having first opened at various venues in Lagos, the exhibition is now on view at the Uganda Museum as well as in a virtual display online.

Adapted from the novels Things Fall Apart (1958) and No Longer at Ease (1960), two parts of Chinua Achebe’s so-called African Trilogy, the feature film was produced by Nigerian filmmaker Francis Oladele and directed by Berlin-based filmmaker Jason Pohland. Before Nigeria established its “Nollywood” film industry, raw footage was typically sent to Europe and America for postproduction. The materials for Things Fall Apart ended up being stored in the director’s personal holdings, the Modern Art Film Archiv Pohland in Berlin, and then forgotten—consigned, as it were, to history’s waiting room.

This exhibition combines Goldblatt’s striking black-and-white images with other archival materials, including the film’s unpublished still photos, production papers, correspondence, scripts, budgets, screening posters, portraits, and newspaper clippings fawning over Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of the Toro Kingdom of Uganda, who played the female protagonist, Clara. One of Goldblatt’s portraits of the hero Okonkwo, played by John Sekka, offers a close-cropped view of the character’s stern face as he stands, spear in hand. In contrast to this paragon of masculinity, for Okonkwo, the tragic hero, 1970, the photographer frames the shot so that the man’s hanging torso almost blends in with the sun-dappled forest. The play of light and shadow pervades the other images, allowing the photographs to stand apart from the narrative.