History of Art and Architecture

“Is this the America of Ebony?” Magazines, Africa, and America

Thursday, March 21, 2024 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm

Dr. Leslie Wilson

125 Frick Fine Arts Auditorium


When Alf Kumalo visited his friend and fellow South African photographer Ernest Cole in New York in 1971, Cole reportedly asked the question: “Is this the America of Ebony?” Some mix of frustration and lament, this question speaks to Cole’s challenge to reconcile the realities of Black life in America with its popular representations in print. This talk centers Cole, a photographer who started his career producing work for South African magazines directed at Black urban audiences, such as Drum and ZONK!, and who worked as one of South Africa's first Black freelance photographers before fleeing into exile in 1966. It examines his work in relation to the flows of African and African diasporic magazines and considers ways to answer Cole’s question.

Dr. Leslie Wilson is Associate Director of Academic Engagement and Research at the Art Institute of Chicago.