Marilyn Nance | The Women of FESTAC’77

24 February – 27 April 2024

Marilyn Nance

The Women of FESTAC’77

Los Angeles

Artist Profile
Marilyn Nance

Press Release

Roberts Projects is pleased to present Marilyn Nance: The Women of FESTAC’77. The exhibition offers a curated selection from Nance’s vast catalogue of photographs and archival materials that revisits the memory of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC’77) from the perspectives of women artists in the American contingent. Objects from fellow participant Betye Saar’s archives are also on display, including her sketches, datebook, personal photos, official FESTAC’77 participation documents and ephemera.

Coming of age in New York during the Black Arts Movement that championed the celebration of African history and culture, Marilyn Nance was 21 years old when she was chosen to be the official photographer for the United States at FESTAC’77. More than 17,000 artists, writers, musicians, scholars and activists from 55 countries across Africa and its diasporic communities traveled to Lagos, Nigeria in January 1977 to share in bringing to life a collective dream for the future of Black and African people. Drawing inspiration from the Olympics and similar cultural biennials, the landmark festival included live performances, literary events, colloquiums, concerts and exhibitions that highlighted the diverse cultural contributions by Black and African people around the world, and explored the potential of a Pan-Africanist future in which all African nations were united in peace and solidarity.

As one of very few women photographers who documented the month-long event, Nance created more than 1,500 photographs that now serve as an invaluable firsthand account of FESTAC’77. With nearly 500 Americans invited to participate, her collection of images features women artists Viola Burley, Carole Byard, Ajuba Douglas, Charlotte Ka, Samella Lewis, Valerie Maynard, Winnie Owens-Hart and Faith Ringgold, among many others.

Betye Saar was invited to participate in FESTAC’77 as a visual artist representing the United States, and traveling to Lagos became her first of many trips to the African continent. The once-in-a-lifetime event left a lasting impression on Saar that continues to resonate through her work to this day.

Additional figures from the mid-20th century—including musicians Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, writer Audre Lorde, singer Miriam Makeba, civil rights leader Queen Mother Moore, and US Ambassador Andrew Young—also appear in Nance’s photographs.

The festival’s foundation was built on the belief that being in community with each other as members of the Black and African diaspora had the power to create infinite possibilities and futures, and this exhibition focuses on the camaraderie between women artists whose legacies are forever connected as a result. This shared belief characterizes Nance’s active practice as a visual artist, photographer and cultural historian, and takes shape in the form of her recently published photographic archive of FESTAC’77, Last Day in Lagos (2022).