With a specific focus on vernacular art and photography, her work centers on the power of representation. She investigates the ways in which cultural knowledge and markers of social identity are constructed, perpetuated, and contested via visual language systems. In this vein, Keller considers how individuals — artists, patrons, and audiences — ascribe meaning to images as they traverse cultural contexts, cultivating a sense of social belonging, individuality, or exclusivity, to appreciate how local means of visual expression can have far reaching significance for global citizens. With an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and international approach, she engages diverse communities in dialogue and civic action to address chronic social issues, from the cultural ostracism of minority populations to the exploitation of cultural heritage in international markets.
Archive of Malian Photography
The Archive of Malian Photography (AMP) currently provides access to preserved and digitized collections of five important photographers in Mali, West Africa. Funded by the British Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities, since 2011, a collaborative team of U.S. and Malian conservators has cleaned, scanned, cataloged, and rehoused more than 100,000 negatives from the archives of Mamadou Cissé, Adama Kouyaté, Abdourahmane Sakaly, Malick Sidibé, and Tijani Sitou for long-term preservation and access. Spanning the 1940s-90s, this collection reveals changes and continuities in political and cultural practices, social trends, and photographic production during and after the region’s transition from French colonialism to national independence, challenging global perceptions of Africa and Africans.
Imaging Culture: Photography in Mali, West Africa, is forthcoming from Indiana University Press in 2018. Representing more than 15 years of fieldwork and archival research, Imaging Culture is a socio-historical study of the practice, function, and cultural significance of photography in Mali during periods of colonialism, national independence, socialism, and democracy. Centering on studio and documentary work, Keller applies concepts derived from indigenous theories of social action within her analysis. This approach illustrates the medium’s integration with longstanding forms of creative expression and reveals connections among urban and rural social practices, traditional and contemporary cultural productions, and transcultural fluencies among various communities in and beyond Mali. As a result, it helps to bridge compartmentalized knowledge in the fields of African Studies and African Art History, which tend to distinguish rural, ethnic-based studies from those considered urban and transnational. Furthermore, this book participates in the current movement toward global histories of photography, seeking to expand the Eurocentric canon and predominant understanding of photographic production. Forming the core of her analysis is internationally renowned artist Malick Sidibé — the first African photographer to receive the prestigious Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 2003 and the Golden Lion award for Lifetime Achievement at the 2007 Venice biennale.
Dr. Keller has numerous published works on topics that include advancing scholarship, ethical issues regarding the global art market, West African Photography and more. A sample of these publications are available.