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I wish there was colour, I wish there was sound

31 May - 15 September

I wish there was colour. Andrea Stultiens

Between 1932 and 1962 Paul Julien made around fifteen journeys to various countries across Africa. During that period the continent was still largely colonised by Western Europe states, and Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries also exercised considerable influence. During his travels Julien collected scientific data on and from the local population, and he stayed in touch with some of the people he met, particularly the missionaries, for years afterwards.

Julien’s research used methods developed in the eighteenth century, such as skull and body measurement, and classified people based on their physique. These methods had formed part of the scientific justification given by Western European nations during the colonisation of Africa. His background in chemistry was useful in the analysis of blood samples that formed additional research data in the quest to contribute to the origins of humanity. Julien published four books re-telling his journeys, all illustrated with photographs made while travelling. He also gave lectures for the national radio in which he spoke about his experiences. His stories were popular and reached a large audience.

After Paul Julien’s death, his photographic legacy was handed over to the Nederlands Fotomuseum, along with extensive documentation.

Since 2012, artist and researcher Andrea Stultiens has been studying the position of Paul Julien’s oeuvre within the image and imagination of Africa in the 20th century. The photographs Julien produced in Africa cannot be separated from colonial power structures. In the exhibition ‘I wish there was colour, I wish there was sound’ Stultiens provides additional and alternative perspectives to these images and imaginations.‘I wishtherewas colour, Iwish therewas soundThe outcomes displayed were developed in collaboration with people living in the regions in which the original photographs were produced and their diaspora.

Stultiens positions the Paul Julien archive within a contemporary context and breaks open conventional framings. She employs various methods, approaches and techniques such as ‘rephotography’ and ‘collective making’ to arrive at collages, montages and other responses.

The exhibition title is a quote from Sierra Leonean historian Arthur Abraham. After seeing the black and white photographs and silent film produced by Paul Julien he sighed: “I wish there was colour, I wish there was sound”.

The exhibition consists of five parts, each focusing on a particular country or region: Liberia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, a Batwa community living in the Virunga mountains, and Ethiopia. While visiting the exhibition, viewers are invited to reflect on how we should relate to visually-appealing, even beautiful photographs that nevertheless memorialise problematic pasts that remain painful to many people.

The Nederlands Fotomuseum has been responsible for the preservation of Julien’s archive since 2001. The museum believes that artistic activations such as this are important ways to stimulate critical engagement with the collection, even when the images are at times uncomfortable.


31 May
15 September
Evenement Categorie:
Summer at Nederlands Fotomuseum
van 13 juli tm 25 augustus
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