An installation by Rosalind Morris about the world of informal mining in the abandoned gold mines of South Africa


Gambling on Visibility

A conversation about the challenges of representing precarious life with Rosalind Morris and Ilisa Barbash

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions


Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce "Gambling on Visibility," a conversation about the challenges of representing precarious life, on Thursday, February 27, 2020 from 6:30-8pm. Organized in conjunction with the installation The Zama Zama Project, this event will feature a conversation with Ilisa Barbash and Rosalind Morris about the ethics and politics of representing vulnerable communities. What do those who have been marginalized in and by the global economy want when they seek visibility and recognition? What are the risks of documenting underground economies? What are the aesthetic forms available for this task? And what does it mean to collaborate--to speak with rather than merely about people—across difference?

The Zama Zama Project, on display through March 20, 2020, features high-resolution, immersive video and narrative documentary shorts about the lives of men and women who make their living scavenging for gold. This collaborative project led by Rosalind Morris grows out of long-term research in the Witwatersrand gold-mining region that stretches over more than two decades. In this fragile and toxic environment, men mine for gold in decaying tunnels kilometers beneath the surface of the earth, and women grind stone by hand to extract the precious metal. The Zama Zama Project is intended to document their predicament, while providing an opportunity for audiences to encounter life in these remnants of the gold-mining world and to hear from and engage those who live in it.

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Lisa (Ilisa) Barbash is Curator of Visual Anthropology at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology where she makes films, and writes books and curates exhibitions about photography. Lisa has taught ethnographic film production and the history and theory of ethnographic film at San Francisco State University, Berkeley, and at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

She made the films In and Out of Africa (1992), about authenticity and taste in the transnational trade in African art, and Sweetgrass (2009), about contemporary sheep ranching in Montana (with Lucien Castaing-Taylor.) Together they co-wrote Cross-cultural Filmmaking: A Handbook for Making Documentary and Ethnographic Films and Video, and co-edited The Cinema of Robert Gardner. Her most recent project is the book, Where the Roads All End (2015) about the Marshall Family Photographic Collection and the visual representation of the Ju/'hoansi in 1950s Namibia.  

Rosalind Morris is an award-winning anthropologist, cultural critic, filmmaker and media theorist, who has taught at Columbia University, where she is Professor of Anthropology, for 25 years. She has worked for more than two decades to document the transforming life-worlds around the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. She is the author of 7 books and more than 70 essays, and has been recognized with numerous awards.

Morris has spent more than two decades conducting research on the social lives of natural resource extraction. Over the past four years, she has been collaborating with Zama Zamas to produce a form of documentation that testifies to the lived reality of those who live in the shadow of the gold industry's deindustrialization, while exploring the limits of documentary method.

"Zama zama, it's like gambling, but the better part of gam- bling. . Sometimes, you may be lucky."

— Bhekani Mumpande