Nicola Lo Calzo – Cham

The Zulu parade emerged around the turn of the twentieth century and grew out of New Orleans’s African American community. Members of benevolent organizations, groups that engaged in community organizing, decided that if Mardi Gras was going to be segregated, they would begin a Krewe (a Mardi Gras club) of their own. They crowned a king, who wore a lard can atop his head and held a banana stalk as a scepter, mocking the class privilege of most white Carnival Krewes. It got launched in 1909 by black working-class men -- dock workers, wagon drivers, bartenders, hustlers, pimps . Zulu was considered an alternative to the «whites only» activities of Carnival. It began as a spoof, but gained popularity with working class and some of middle class as time passed. It was a subtle form of protest against the powers that be without crossing the line of «expected and accepted» racial behavior. There are all kinds of ways to interpret the meaning of Zulu and the notion of an African American man wearing blackface, which was typically the hallmark of the minstrel show. The most obvious of these readings is to view the use of blackface as an attempt to seize upon racist symbols and invert them as demonstrations of African American power. That African Americans choose to wear blackface demystifies racist cultural symbols and norms, robbing those symbols of some of their sting. By embracing and amplifying white stereotypes of black character, Zulu was a safe way to mock the mockers. Its clownish royalty punctured the pretensions of the ermine-bedecked white elite. The strategy made the black bourgeoise uncomfortable, however. The Civil Rights era was complicated for Zulu. What had been an important and subtle outlet for African Americans in New Orleans, open to many interpretations, suddenly was a contested ritual. Some African American observers were not happy with the use of blackface, which suggested that participants in Zulu were happily playing the fool for white New Orl

Nicola Lo Calzo

Cham 

Culture is a complex thing, especially when it is emergent from centuries of violence, oppression and bondage. The Atlantic slave trade moved millions of bodies and reordered the geographies of peoples and their customs. There are as many histories as there were individuals who lived and suffered, were bought and sold. I have waded deep into this history for my ongoing Cham project.

For five years, I have been investigating slavery’s legacy in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Americas. From the destruction and the uprooting imposed by the Europeans, to the conquered and deported peoples, the history of slavery is inseparable from the odyssey of Western colonialism but it it is also the history of resistance to slavery. Elements of resistance are visible in the many visual cultures and traditions.

There no longer exists clear icons or customs that are squarely of a singular experience or heritage. Over the centuries, and at different moments, descendants of slaves across the Atlantic region have won freedom, moved and settled, mixed, revived ancient traditions, and reclaimed symbols of the slavery era. Everything, visual culture included, is in constant flux. I’m interested in exploring through photography how and why these groups re-appropriate their slavery past, the ways and manners by which they are transferring this memory to the next generation, as well as its impact on modern societies.

The project Cham is made up of multiple chapters: after West Africa (TCHAMBA), French Antillas (Mas), Haiti (AYITI), Suriname & French Guyana (OBIA), Southern United States (CASTA) and Cuba (REGLA). I wish to continue the CHAM project in Colombia, notably in the coast region, where the afro-descendant community is based from the colonial time. Here I present the series CASTA, produced within a six-month research period, about the race, memory and community in the southern parts of the United States.

This essay was Shortlisted for the EPF 2016

 

 

 

Bio

Lo Calzo was born in Torino in 1979. After training in landscape architecture at Politecnico of Turin, he started my artistic endeavor in 2001. His photography is a documentary proposal, undertaken halfway between journalism and art, while focusing on postcolonial issues. Lo Calzo is interested in exploring through photography how and why minorities produce culture, counter-culture or sub-culture inside a dominant system. Most of his work is focused on minority issues and identity. The research by archives, books and meetings with anthropologists, historians and artists related to his subject is a good way to get a complex vision of it. The photographer’s reflections upon identity, race, gender, sexuality have been consistent throughout all of my photography series such as Morgante, The Promising Baby, Inside Niger. For five years, Lo Calzo has been working on a project about the legacy and memories of colonial slavery and antislavery struggles (Cham).

 

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