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Subscriber: null; date: 21 October 2019

DeSouza, Allan locked

(b Nairobi, 1958).
  • Susan Kart

Kenyan photographer, multimedia and performance artist, and teacher of Indian descent, active in the USA. DeSouza was born in Kenya to Indian parents. Raised in London from the age of 7, he called his background that of a ‘double colonial history’. DeSouza attended Goldsmiths College in London and the Bath Academy of Art, and although he has worked primarily in photography and as a writer on contemporary art, he has also branched out into performance art, digital painting, and textual and mixed media arts. He moved to the USA in 1992 and in 2012 became of Head of Photography at the University of California, Berkeley.

The primary themes in deSouza’s work are those of colonial encounter, seen in Indigena/Assimilado (1998), a photographic series of migrant workers in Los Angeles; migration, as explored in Threshold (1996–8), his early photographic series of airports empty of people; exile, which he explored in The Lost Pictures (1962–5/2004–5), a series of family photos eroded by contemporary activity; and the seemingly simple idea of tourism, which he inverted in his 199 performance Tress/Pass, by wearing a blonde wig and asking to be photographed in front of tourist monuments. In explaining his own identity in relationship to his artworks, deSouza stated: ‘I am interested in my work as being not autobiography (or truth-telling) but as a form of ethnography, as a focus on, or my relationship to, culture and how I might be located by and within it’ (Kubick and Walsh).

In some manner, all his works contain references to culture and the spaces of transition (airports, intersections, subway stations, and trains) or the marked borders between them. But his formal concerns are also temporal. DeSouza has worked with the perplexity of only being able to move forward in time, or in one direction, and how this is not always a positive or uncomplicated movement. He has engaged constantly with the point of no return, the direction (or culture) from which one came that is now forbidden, the charting of history across the migrations and movements of people. Finally, across all of this is the theme of humanity and human identities. How these are shaped by the places we have been and the borders we cross are at the core of deSouza’s most powerful conceptual works.

DeSouza’s work has been exhibited in the company of artists similarly engaged with transnational identity such as Yong Soon Min, Julie Mehretu, Fatimah Tuggar, Kendell Geers, Hassan Musa, and Ingrid Mwangi, among others.


  • ‘Encounters with the Trans-Glocal’, The Battle of Visions, (exh. cat. ed. Beck Jee-sook; Darmstadt, Ksthalle, 2005)
  • ‘My Mother, My Sight’, The Oldest We’ve Ever Been: Seven True Stories of Midlife Transitions, ed. M. Lavin (Tucson, AZ, 2008)


  • Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora (exh. cat., ed. L. A. Farrell; New York, Mus. Afr. A., 2003)
  • C. Kubick and A. Walsh: ‘A Discourse Concerning the Practice of Art: Allan deSouza talks to Chris Kubick and Anne Walsh of Archive’, Camerawork: A Journal of Photographic Arts, vol.36(2) (Fall–Winter 2009), pp. 14–20
  • Allan deSouza: [artist’s website] (accessed on 24 June 2015)