CAROL BECKWITH AND ANGELA FISHER CONTINUE DOCUMENTING AFRICA’S VANISHING CULTURES IN KENYA, CONGO, ETHIOPIA, SOMALILAND, EGYPT AND CAMEROON

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CAROL BECKWITH AND ANGELA FISHER
CONTINUE DOCUMENTING AFRICA’S VANISHING CULTURES IN KENYA,
CONGO, ETHIOPIA, SOMALILAND, EGYPT AND CAMEROON

Renowned photographers and chroniclers of Africa’s vanishing cultures, Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith will take seven exciting fieldwork trips this year. Each expedition will take them into the heart of Africa’s most remote regions, often at the invitation of local Chieftans and village elders.

The 2014 expeditions are to: Masquerades in Burkina Faso; Kara Jumping of the Bull Male Initiations in Ethiopia; Turkana Wedding in Kenya, Salampasu Initiations in Congo; Marriage Rituals in Somaliland; Moulids on the Nile in Egypt and Ceremonies of the Bamun Royal Kingdom in Cameroon.

Clockwise from L–R: 1. Turkana Courtship Dancers, Northern Kenya 2. Carol, Angela and their Police Escort, Northern Kenya 3. Turkana Girl in Courtship Regalia, Northern Kenya 4. Turkana Courtship Dancing, Northern Kenya

“We have just returned from the bush,” said Carol Beckwith and Angela Fihser about their recent May expedition to Kenya. “After 18 hours of driving in 41c heat, through cattle–raiding territory escorted by armed police, bouncing over pot holes, avoiding viscous black cotton mud, and often blinded by mountainous swirls of thick ocher dust.

We had come to visit the Turkana, a nilotic people who live in Northwest Kenya, boarding Lake Turkana. Surviving in a harsh terrain, they herd camels and cattle as a livelihood.

We were deeply moved by their dance for rain performed by elder Turkana women, followed by the sacrifice of ram which involved the traditional reading of its intestines– a portent for the future– the oldest and wisest men chanted a beautiful heartfelt prayer to ensure the survival of the tribe. In a dry riverbed nearby the younger generation, adorned in beaded finery, performed vibrant courtship dances in the intense heat north of the equator.”

In August 2011 an expedition to Congo took them to photograph and film ceremonies in the Royal Kuba Kingdomthis July they have returned as guests of the Royal family in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These Kingdoms are renowned for their sculptures in wood, raffia textiles, traditional palaces and magnificent costumes worn during rituals in the Royal court. The Congo photographs will be published in their next book: “African Twilight.”

September 2013, they visited the banks of the Omo River in South West Ethiopia, recording some of the last images and rituals of people who are being taken from their traditional homes. Images are below.

Clockwise from L–R: 1. Kara woman with painted face and colourful seed necklaces, Ethiopia; 2. Kara men leaping at courtship dance, Ethiopia; 3. Kara boy decorated with chalk and fruit, Ethiopia; 4. Carol Beckwith, Zeeno– a Kara friend of many years, and Angela Fisher.

Commenting on the rapid changes facing traditional Africa, Carol and Angela remark, “We have witnessed the loss of traditional cultural practices and beliefs as each new generation moves forward and embraces the 21st century, bringing with it the powerful influence of the outside world. We have felt compassion for the elders as they watch their traditional world and values disappear, and empathy for the young generation seeking a new way of life. We are touched by the children of this generation who come to us asking about their grandparents — who were they, where did they come from and what did they believe in? Over 40% of what we have recorded during the past 35 years no longer exists or has changed dramatically. We have dedicated our lives to documenting the last of the truly traditional cultures on the continent.”

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher met in Kenya over thirty–five years ago and teamed up to form one of the greatest duo’s in photography. Their unique, award–winning images, covering 150 African cultures, were taken on journeys totaling 270,000 miles throughout Africa. As young female explorers, they saw Africa through the eyes of the people they lived with, photographing each group meticulously, from their body adornment to their ritual passages through life. Each image tells a story of the lives of the men, women and children within the vibrant traditions of these cultures. Their extraordinary photographs are recorded in fourteen best–selling books and in their films. Their new book “Painted Bodies” (2012) follows “Maasai” (1980), “Nomads of Niger” (1983), “Africa Adorned” (1984), “African Ark” (1990), “African Ceremonies” (1999), “Passages” (2000), “Faces of Africa” (2004), “Lamu: Kenya’s Enchanted Island” (2009), and “Dinka” (2010). The special limited edition books, hand printed in Santiago, Chile, are titled “Surma,” “Karo,” “Maasai,” and “Dinka.”

The photographers have made four films about traditional Africa, including Way of the Wodaabe (1986), The Painter and the Fighter, and two programs for the Millennium Series Tribal Wisdom and The Modern World. Numerous exhibitions of their photography and films have been shown in museums and galleries around the world. In 2000 their Passages exhibition opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art featuring 97 mural photographs, six films and a selection of African masks, sculpture and jewelry. This exhibition travelled to seven museums on three continents and can now be viewed on the Google Cultural Institute’s website.

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