Lorena Rizzo

Lorena Rizzo


Researcher and Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Bielefeld, Germany
Shades of Difference:  Photography and the Grammar of Race in Southern Colonial Africa
Oppenheimer Fellow
2016-2017 Academic Year


I am a historian working on 19th and 20th century Namibia and South Africa, with a special interest in histories of photography in the subcontinent. I have published on visual history and theory; on Namibian gender and social history; and history, visuality and memory in South Africa and Namibia. I currently hold a position as a researcher and lecturer in the department of history at the University of Bielefeld, Germany. I have been an associate fellow at the Center for African Studies of the University of Basel; the Center for African American and African Studies at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape (Cape Town), and the Center for African Studies at Harvard University. I am currently working on a book tentatively entitled Shades of Empire – Photographies and Policing in Colonial Southern Africa.

Project Description

Shades of Difference: Photography and the Grammar of Race in Southern Colonial Africa

Race has been essential in shaping South African, and by implication, Namibian experiences of colonialism, segregation and apartheid. In December 2015 the most recent outbreak of racist expression (regarding the alleged squalor caused by black people on South African beaches) and the firm responses it prompted across the social and printed media evidenced how critically South African society continues to be haunted by structural racism. Those who proclaim the advent of the “post-racial” seem to have been, once again, proved alarmingly wrong. While there are important historical factors that condition the specificities of the South African contemporary predicament, the post-apartheid era has likewise raised the problem of race as a global phenomenon and increasingly eroded South African claims to exceptionalism. The proposed project explores a specific aspect of how the region’s history resonates into the presence by looking at photography as a key medium in the continual fabrication, testing and re-enforcement, as well as contestation, disruption and subaltern re-articulation of race. Drawing on a wide range of photographic images produced in South Africa and Namibia throughout the 20th century, the project analyses two modalities of drawing the colour line as expressed in processes of racial mapping: race as both a matter of the body and a matter of space. The overall argument developed aims at explaining, on the one hand, how photography nurtured South African preoccupations with fixing subjects in a racialized social and physical landscape, and how, on the other hand, the medium’s semantic instability and visual ambiguity destabilised the very object/subject it was meant to constitute.

2016-2017: Oppenheimer Fellow

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