Four To Follow #9
Sharing stories from across the African continent by the talented members of the African Photojournalism Database (APJD).
This article is part of the ‘Four to Follow’ series, originally published by Witness. Click here to see the rest of the series on Witness.
In this ninth edition of Four To Follow, Btihal Remli, Leke Alabi Isama, Ilan Godfrey and Dennis Akuoku-Frimpong unveil unique and intimate stories from Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana. Through their inquisitive and keen eyes, you’ll learn about a village run exclusively by women in rural Morocco, the influence and practice of Hinduism in Ghana, the plight of communities affected by mining in South Africa and the vibrant come-back of Arise Fashion Week in Lagos.
‘Country of Women’ by Btihal Remli
In the valleys of the High Atlas in Morocco, where small Berber communities and some families are still living on itinerant pasture, the women are usually in charge of the animals: a cow, two or three goats, a few hens, and a donkey for carrying. There are only a few men and they are really discreet: adults are at the market in the valley, young men go abroad, and the elderly do some maintenance tasks here and there. Here, women and young girls are running entire villages. Btihal, with her intimate and gentle gaze, unveils the daily routine of this ‘Country of Women’ and offers us an important socio-economical portrait of contemporary rural Morocco.
“I have started this work after a residency I have done in Switzerland about mountain farmers who are struggling a lot these days with earning their bread. I began to document them and was wondering about mountain farmers in Morocco, who are dealing with similar and very different issues at the same time. They don’t have financial support from the state, no schools, hospitals, nor roads which could take them to the cities. And there was also this very big gap between tradition and globalized economy market that interested me a lot.”
“I found something that really surprised me in a way. I found a village with almost no men — a place that could almost only exist because of women. They did everything, took care of the fields, the animals, the house, the children. That was a very crucial moment for me as I am a moroccan woman and know the difficulties you can have as a female in your daily life. I wanted to show strong and proud women, because this is how I perceived them.”
“Women carry the daily grind on their shoulders. Nothing new. Or maybe there is? These women ensure the survival of a territory and are gaining visibility, power and independence.”
“The title refers to Morocco’s history. In the early 20th century, Morocco was divided in two different areas, which was „blad al makhzen“, the state, and „blad el siba“, the lawless area that wasn’t under control of the sultan. An area that is stretched through the Atlas Mountains and that is mostly inhabited by Berber. ‘Country of Women’ translates to „blad al nssa“ in derija and is supposed to be a link to „blad al siba“ in the history.”
“A recurrent theme in my work is belief, which is likely due to my religious education and upbringing, in which questions were better not posed and therefore still remain without an answer to me. This is where my two worlds collide — because the other one has taught me that belief and religion should be viewed critically and always be questioned. Through my work, I try to approach and explore this topic, because it unveils many open questions for which there will be no answers, which leads to continuous observation, interrogation and research.”
This project was made possible thanks to a grant by Mophradat.
Btihal Remli is a Moroccan photographer born in 1987 in Germany. She studied in Germany, Portugal, and Austria and graduated with a masters degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The motivation for her work is a deep examination of her culture and origins in Morocco and their contrast with her German identity. Through photography, she explores social issues and the questions that arise in her process. Her photography is a tool and method for her to understand and at the same time communicate her worldview. Her work has been exhibited in Austria, Italy, Hungary, Germany, UAE, Switzerland, and Morocco. Btihal Remli is represented by VOICE Gallery in Marrakech.
‘The Platinum Belt’ by Ilan Godfrey
South Africa has been associated with mineral wealth, both in terms of diversity and abundance, for more than a century. In recent years, the demand for platinum in particular, of which South Africa holds the majority of the world’s reserves, has grown exponentially. Spanning several years of research and groundwork, this project is a long-term investigation into the human, social, environmental and health costs of platinum mining in South Africa, made possible by the Open Society Foundation For South Africa. As important as platinum continues to be as a driver of economic growth in South Africa, the human cost has been extraordinary. All across the platinum belt, communities are forcibly displaced, and often thrust into a completely unsustainable situation, with insufficient land to live on and none of the employment opportunities they were promised.
“I was originally drawn to the way in which mining stamped its mark on the environment, but my experiences soon exposed something deeper: land rendered unfit for agricultural use; a public health crisis within local communities ill-equipped to cope with mining-generated air-, land- and water-pollution; and the disruptive influence of systematic labour exploitation on traditional cultural and familial structures.”
“The work I produced during this time shone a light on everything that is wrong with the mining sector. Acting as a visual archive — a record of current mining practices and a graphic testimony to the need to find ways to reshape this rapidly growing industry — my photographs became visual signifiers for change.”
“With the help of an extensive network of environmental activists and community leaders directly affected by platinum mining, I was able to engage with the community on various personal and emotional issues affecting their daily lives. By tracing the difficulties and dilemmas and human dramas that emerged wherever the mines of the platinum belt collided with the towns, villages, informal settlements and rural communities in their path, I began to create a body of work that connected people from different provinces across this vast mineral-rich geological outcrop.”
“Through my investigative fieldwork, questions are raised and directed at the platinum mining industry, and in particular, at the multitude of platinum mining companies (both multinational firms and South African black-owned empowerment companies) operating in the Bushveld Complex — an area spanning three provinces, from the North West Province across the Limpopo Province to the Mpumalanga Province; covering more than 50,000 square kilometres; and home to 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves.”
“I hope that this body of work continues to ignite discussion around how, as a society, we need to stand together in bringing about a broader understanding of our shared resources and how best to use them. We need to acknowledge the fragility of the environment and the vulnerabilities of the people that live on the land under which the minerals are found. Growth and development is a prerequisite for economic stability, yet we must never forget the wider context — how we got here, and how we should move forward into a sustainable and equitable future, where all facets and factors and peoples are considered.”
To further explore ‘The Platinum Belt’ project, visit the Open Society Foundation For South Africa’s dedicated website.
Ilan Godfrey was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1980. He gained a bachelor of arts (Hons) degree in photography from the University of Westminster and was awarded the David Faddy Scholarship to continue his studies, receiving a masters degree in photojournalism. Ilan Godfrey’s current and ongoing personal photographic practice focuses on extensive issues that reflect South Africa’s constantly changing landscape, documenting the country with an in-depth, intimate and personal conscience. He collaborates with institutions and organizations worldwide and has been recognized by various photography awards and grants. His photographs have been featured in a broad range of leading international publications.
‘I Am A Hindu’ by Dennis Akuoku-Frimpong
As a born African Hindu to African Hindu parents, Dennis Akuoku-Frimpong embarked on a journey of self-discovery and explores the space in which he finds himself through his long-term personal project documenting the Hindu community in Ghana. ‘I Am A Hindu’ investigates how a religious practice of the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu) following the Vedic period (1500BCE — 500BCE) in Northern India found its way into the African continent and became accepted and practiced contemporarily.
The first African Hindu monk (His Holiness Swami Ghananandhaji Saraswate Maharaj) to be initiated into the world of sannyasi was a Ghanaian. There are five major Hindu temples in Ghana — Accra, Tema, Cape Coast, Kumasi and Mampong. The monk is automatically the head of the monastery that oversees spiritual activities in Ghana. Each temple branch is headed by a ‘president’, who is a disciple — an initiated devotee.
“I am a born Hindu to African Hindu parents, thus an insider to the community. I have a very intimate connection to the subject and a profound access to my subjects.”
“The community is very active in serving mankind within the country — Ghana. There is a monthly free medical outreach to the people of Mampong, a monthly visit to the sick at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, a monthly visit to the Ankaful Hosptial in Cape Coast, and yearly visit to the sick at the Tema General Hospital and Children’s Home in Kumasi.”
“Hinduism is accepted and being practiced by over 2,000 families in Ghana. Being a religious minority, Hinduism can be quite disturbing within the contemporary Ghanaian culture because of where it’s coming from — India, believed to be idolatry with its associated image worship, rituals and cultural practices.”
“It has been a self-exploration too, and sometimes difficult to visually document what I am personally involved in. I remember how I wished to document my own son’s first spiritual shaving of the hair, but couldn’t because I had to hold him as a father. Though my parents were not born Hindus, they converted from Christianity and this project is also exploring why, how and when they became Hindus.”
“I use photography as a medium of exploring spaces in which I find myself, and documenting for tomorrow’s historian. With the keen eye for cultural diversity, religious practices and the theme of religion, I see myself as an anthropologist.”
Dennis Akuoku-Frimpong is a Ghanaian-born documentary photographer with interest in exploring cultural diversity and the theme of religion across the African continent. He is a member of Nuku Studio — a group of five visual storytellers in Ghana.
‘Arise Fashion Show, Lagos’ by Leke Alabi Isama
African fashion designs have long lent inspiration to international designers, who are often influenced by its multi-faceted history and culture. Designers like British fashion label Stella McCartney and french luxury design house Kenzo have credited collections to African influence. As Arise Fashion Week Lagos returned after a six-year hiatus, photographer Leke Alabi Isama was invited to discover and document the process of the fashion show. Capturing the colorful, buzzing and fast-paced atmosphere, Leke set out to explore the world behind the glamour, beyond the runway.
“It has always been interesting to observe as noble West African design techniques such as adire and aso oke — hand dyed and woven cloth — make their way from my hometown in Abeokuta to global stages, like the White House.”
“Arise Fashion Week Lagos originated in 2011, with over 70 designers (mostly African) showcasing their designs from all aspects of the globe. The show is usually well attended by international and local press, as it is one of the main celebrations of African fashion and style on the continent. Featuring on its runway top black supermodels such as Alek Wek, Oluchi Orlandi, Naomi Campbell and more, it has also been produced in London and New York during the international fashion calendar.”
“The show generated such an electric and vibrant energy. Backstage, I was in awe of the various moving parts — models, designers, stylists, show producers, make-up artists, working tirelessly to produce a spectacular 50 shows, over the course of three days. Amidst all the chaos, my focus was to find quiet moments backstage which otherwise would have been lost. Zooming in on details and expressions that would not be present on the main show stage, giving the viewer a first-hand experience of behind the scenes.”
“What drives me to this is identity. How now African designers are getting their own recognition for the efforts they have employed over the years, and not just being represented globally as a trend, or as cultural inspiration.”
“I met some of the young designers such as Chulaap from South Africa, Kenneth Ize from Lagos and Colrs from Germany, covering the process of their fittings and last-minute adjustments before the big show. This was a great intimate way of knowing more behind their designs and not just observing them at face value. It was indeed an enriching experience.”
Leke Alabi Isama is a street and documentary photographer from Nigeria. His work focuses on social issues in Nigeria and he hopes his images can connect the viewer with the everyday reality of life, provoke thoughts, raise questions and lend a voice in proffering long-lasting solutions to issues that affect humanity. He is also a certified Canon photography and film trainer across Africa under the Canon Miraisha program, an imaging skills acquisition program.
The African Photojournalism Database is a collaboration of the World Press Photo Foundation and Everyday Africa. The database identifies professional African photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers reporting on cultural, economic, environmental, political and social issues on the continent, as well as sports, nature, and stories of everyday life. The database better connects local photographers with the global media industry and offers a more diverse representation of the African continent.
To see membership criteria and register, please go to apjd.org. To request the full database, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.