JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Rui Assubuji

February 5, 2024 by Sonja Johnston

Rui Assubuji (Ph.D. University of the Western Cape, 2020) completed his doctorate in History after a professional career in video and photography with Mozambican National Television and as a freelance photojournalist. His dissertation, Visual Struggle for Mozambique. Revisiting Narratives, Interpreting Photographs (1850—1930) opens new tracks of historical analysis and methodology through a critical discussion of Mozambique’s photographic archives. His interest in the audiovisual evolves from its production, usages, the space of memories, debate, and knowledge creation, to its handling, management, conservation, archives, and public access. His fellowship research project is titled Visual Dissonance and the Problem of Absence in Mozambican History. Rui is our 2023-24 New Media Public Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow.

What are your main research interests?

My main research interests involve audiovisual communicatory possibilities and their attributes. I explore aesthetics in visual representation, inquiring about aspects related to different forms of knowledge construction.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

My current project is the production of a manuscript based on my dissertation. It discusses photography and its relation with history (1850-1930), focusing on my home country, Mozambique. One of the purposes is to see what impact the inclusion of visual archives has on the existing debates concerning Portuguese colonialism in that African territory and elsewhere. The rationale for this study is to perceive what difference photographs will make to our interpretation and understanding of this past.

The world's political changes in the 1950s forced Portugal to transform its colonial territories into overseas Provinces. At schools in Africa, subject to the Portuguese curriculum, we learned about the regions, mountains, rivers, and cities of European Metropol. Only in advanced classes would we learn about Mozambique's geographical location, features, and limits. We studied Portuguese kings and queens, the visionary imperial project sparked by glorious times of the Discoveries. The civilizing mission and the greatness of the Portuguese heroes crushing despotic African chiefs dominated the historical narrative.

After its independence in 1975, Mozambique changed its name and history to follow the ‘script of the liberation struggle’ charged with nuances required to create a New Man. Challenging official narratives attached to the photographs and events they depict, my research is driven by the need to find new ways to access Mozambique's history. I also aim to facilitate these photographic archives to re-enter public awareness and promote critical approaches in the arts and humanities in that part of southern Africa and elsewhere.

How has your JHI Fellowship experience been so far?

The Canada possibility appeared unexpectedly, and I arrived in Toronto late September, 2023. I intend to fully embrace the opportunity to learn and grow in my human being and academic endeavors. The JHI offers a space where I can breed the project I’m working on. The diversity of my colleagues’ interests and projects shared in dedicated moments and beyond creates a sense of community. It stimulates thought and may refresh introspections regarding my project.

Can you share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?

I was surprised by the attention dedicated to Indigenous and Black studies. I commune the idea of constructing blackness as a political struggle rather than a racial concept. I intend to expose myself to different writing practices, looking more carefully at James Baldwin's sharpness, Saidiya Hartman's challenging the power and authority of the archive, and Christina Sharp's suggestions of beauty as a method, reflecting on a vocabulary to think work.

What is a fun fact about you?

From South Africa, my wife visited me in Toronto during the Christmas holiday and requested we watch something she found on Netflix. It was the series Anne with an E, an adaptation of a children’s literature classic of 1908, Anne of Green Gables. I almost cried during the first episode and got emotionally attached. So, we kept watching the rest of the episodes during the subsequent days. It took some time out of many visits planned for the holiday.