Matthias Krings

Social and Cultural Anthropology, Mainz
Fellowship: 01.04.–30.09.2018



Matthias Krings is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology and African Popular Culture at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. He has specialized in the study of African popular culture, particularly film and video, visual anthropology and visual culture studies, the anthropology of migration and diaspora, and the anthropology of religion. He has done extensive fieldwork in Tanzania and Nigeria. Currently, he is heading the project “Un/doing Albinism”, financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG). This project explores the shifting frames of signifying hypopigmentation – a bodily difference that is often perceived ambiguously as falling between race and disability – in macro-historical and cross-cultural perspective. His Morphomata project feeds into this project as it focuses on a current wave of (mostly serial) portrays of persons with albinism in international art and fashion photography, which re-signifies albinism as an aesthetic quality. 

Fields of Research

African popular culture; anthropology of religion; anthropology of migration and diaspora; visual anthropology; visual culture; medical anthropology; disability studies; critical race studies

Project outline

Peculiar Portraits: Un/doing albinism in art and fashion photography

The project focuses on portraits of persons with albinism, which in recent years have surfaced in international art and fashion photography. The boom of this subject is related to a global rise of awareness of albinism due to extensive media coverage of so-called ‘albino killings’ in East Africa. As portraits of persons with unusual bodies, the photos are situated in a field that stretches between the poles of normalization and othering, and which – beyond the recent transnational dynamics – is traceable in history back to the exhibition of so-called ‘albinos’ in curiosity chambers and side shows. The project conceptualizes the photos under a praxeological perspective as cultural forms which – following Foucault – systematically produce the things with which they deal. The project aims to analyze the portraits as materialized practices of un/doing albinism with an emphasis on analyzing their iconography and usage in comparison to those of visual representations of hypopigmented humans in older or parallel framings (freak shows, anthropology, and medicine). Special attention will be paid to the relationship of seriality and singularity, which is present in the material under scrutiny in different guises and in light of the prominent role serial photography historically played in the creation and exclusion of extraordinary bodies, needs to be critically investigated. Theoretical input is drawn from humanities-oriented disability studies and the comparative study of the practices of human differentiation.


Publications (Selection)

  • African Appropriations: Cultural Difference, Mimesis, and Media. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.
  • Bongo Media Worlds: Producing and Consuming Popular Culture in Dar es Salaam. Cologne: Köppe, 2014 (edited with Uta Reuster-Jahn).
  • Global Nollywood: The Transnational Dimensions of an African Video Film Industry. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013 (edited with Onookome Okome).
  • Ethnologie im 21. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Reimer, 2013 (edited with Thomas Bierschenk und Carola Lentz).
  • Turning Rice into Pilau: the Art of Video Narration in Tanzania, in: Intermédialités 20 (2012), 
  • A Prequel to Nollywood: South African Photo Novels and Their Pan-African Consumption in the Late 1960s, in: Journal of African Cultural Studies 22,1 (2010): 75-89.
  • Albinismus. Rekodierungen einer Humankategorie in historisch variablen Rahmungen, in: Stefan Hirschauer u. Tobias Boll (Hg.): Un/doing Differences. Praktiken der Humandifferenzierung. Weilerswist: Velbrück (2017), 358-390.
  • Ein Model mit ›Makel‹. Shaun Ross und die Produktion besonderer Berühmtheit in der Modewelt, in: Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft 16 (2017), 37-48.