In January 1977, Lagos, Nigeria, was hosting the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC). It was a grander version of the first World Festival of Black Arts (FESMAN), held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966, and gathered fifteen thousand participants coming from more than seventy countries, including the North African delegations absent from the Senegalese event. The aims of the festival were “to revive and promote Black and African values and civilization; to illustrate the contributions that Black and African peoples have made to the universal currents of thoughts and the arts; to foster better international and interracial understanding; and to give Black artists, writers, and performers all over the world a feeling of belonging to a common root despite the diversity of their individual cultural identities.” Marilyn Nance was the official photographer of the North American contingent and documented the festival, creating an archive of more than fifteen hundred images. After this life-changing experience, the young artist returned home to Brooklyn and went on to produce exceptional photographs of unique moments in the cultural history of the United States and the African diaspora, thus possessing an archive of images of late twentieth-century African American life, especially African American spiritual culture. Her work can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Library of Congress, but her FESTAC archive remains hidden, in wait of exhibition and recognition, much like the heritage of the festival itself. Robles talks to Nance about her experience at FESTAC.

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