Leni Riefenstahl's Encounter with the Nuba: In Search of the Sublime

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Leni Riefenstahl, a legend recently deceased at more than 100 years of age, isperhaps best known for her association with Hitler in the form of her filmsOlympia and Triumph of the Will, and she has provoked controversy ever since.This paper will focus on the lesser-known African travel books which Riefenstahlpublished in Germany between 1972 and 1976. Therein she presents images ofNubian people taken in the Sudanese mountains which seem to echo her previouswork in their portrayal of physical perfection. While her pictures of the Nubianpeople have so far been looked at as a homogeneous body of work, the followinganalysis will concentrate on the qualitative difference between Riefenstahl’s firstand subsequent Nuba photo-publications and her changing motivations.Riefenstahl’s romantic quest to capture the innocence of Africa and her desirefor renewal and salvation on the edges of civilization, which were at the centre ofher first visit to the region, are to be seen in stark contrast to the driving forcebehind following visits, when she sought to push into an even more unknownand wilder Africa, whereby her camera attempted to produce images reminiscentof a sublime. I will argue that, in doing so, Riefenstahl regressed into producingEurocentric and sensationalist depictions of ‘her Africans’. Likewise, her role asan agent for change is viewed critically against her self-perception as an anthropological conservationist; her pictures are analysed together with her owncommentary. Her narrative accompanying the photos seems to diminish thepower of her images and may affect her reputation as a great visual artist as itappears to suggest doubtful motives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-101
JournalInterventions: international journal of postcolonial studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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