In 1974, New York City was on the verge of social and economic collapse, while underground, a new era of glamour and vanguard fashion was emerging, fueled by the latest music craze. At the same time, across the globe in Angola, Africa, a civil war was breaking out. Two years prior, on the same continent, Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango wrote what many consider the first disco hit.
In the exhibition Disco Angola, opening tonight at David Zwirner Gallery, Canadian photographer Stan Douglas will present eight new works that recreate this turbulent time, drawing parallels between the conflict in the African country and the burgeoning scene borne out of a destitute Manhattan. The photographs, however, were all taken last year, with Douglas assuming the fictitious role of photojournalist, using costumes and staged backdrops to portray the long past period.
The centerpiece of the exhibition finds a svelte blonde with a perfectly coifed 70s bob seated among the backdrop of a ballroom whose gilded walls compete only with a bar patron dazzling in a metallic sheath, her top leaving little to the imagination. The blonde, in a coral polyester pantsuit, sits frozen across from her companion, a man suited in a head-to-toe pistachio hue, his melancholy gaze fixed on the camera. Their drinks rest comfortably within arm’s reach. The image captures a moment of quiet at the height of an otherwise erratic time when the city’s marginalized communities found a home on the dance floor. While the era of hedonism is over, through photo recreations, Douglas ensures that “night fever” lives on, decades after the glittering lights have gone out and the last dance danced.