DeSouza’s most recent work reenacts and upends iconic colonial narratives of discovery in Africa.Through the Black Country recounts the expedition to England of the Zanzibari crypto-ethnologist Hafeed Sidi Mubarak Mumbai, the fictional great-grandson of the historic figure Sidi Mubarak Bombay — an enslaved African who, upon gaining his freedom in India, returned to Africa to lead numerous British-led expeditions across Africa. Maps, photographs, diary entries, and a recreated base camp narrate Hafeed’s search for the elusive source of the River Thames. Crossing into London from Calais France, the site of a sprawling refugee camp know as “The Jungle,” the expedition begins in May 2016 and continues during the Brexit vote in June.
Hafeed’s diaristic voice is written in the rhythm, language, and moralizing tone of Henry Morton Stanley—the explorer of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” fame—preserving yet inverting the relationship of observer to observed. Emerging through strategies of absurd mimicry, collage, layering, reversal, and artifice, the expedition reveals the fraught imperial legacies that have come to shape the London cityscape. As navigational devices that layer time, place, and traveler, Hafeed’s maps and cartographic motifs take us through Allan deSouza’s own personal history—having grown up in London—and also aid the viewer in “discovering” the broader implications of the work, such as the racial and economic violence of immigration, gentrification, and calls to “make Britain great again.” Visitors are invited to traverse the works for clues and connections, and to chart their own course through Hafeed’s re-staging of the London metropolis.
In addition to his art practice, Allan deSouza is chair of the department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. His current book project, How Art Can Be Thought, an examination of art pedagogy and a lexicon of terms used within the art critique, will be published in 2018.