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How Fayemi re-invented African mothers at Goethe

By Japhet Alakam
As a means of correcting  monumental distortions and negative image being painted by the western press about African women, Dr. A. Olusegun Fayemi, a Nigerian born and American based documentary photographer,  has decided to devote his energies to social documentary photography of the progressive and positive feminine activities in continental Africa and Africa in the diaspora.

The product of this ambitious reclaimatory task is the running solo exhibition, the third in a series tagged, Mothers of Africa. The photographic exhibition which kicked off at the German Cultural Centre, Goethe Institut on Saturday, 19th of September will run till October 2nd 2009.

Declaring the event open, the director of  Goethe Institut Roderik Gross who was represented by Ingo Tegge of the Programme Department, while welcoming the audience said that “Goethe Institut Nigeria has been featuring photography very often as it is one of the things we specialize in”. Continuing he added that the centre decided to exhibit Dr Fayemi’s photos because “ they are small but very unique. And in Goethe, we try to exhibit to find new ways for the artist to be alive and evolving.”

He was also of the view that Fayemi’s combination of photography with other media  is not a very common medium in Nigeria and hence, “we want to exhibit his photographs and also encourage other Nigerian artist to find new ways of expressing themselves.”

In the exhibition, the New York based professionally trained pathologist turned photo artist who has traveled to over 20 countries of Africa taking photographs said that he is exhibiting 22 works from 7 African countries. According to him “the pictures that I make emanate from the context of my being raised a Nigerian and from my experiences as a documentary photographer”. In this uniquely produced photographs, Fayemi who has had about 30 solo exhibitions and many group ones within and outside the country said that he takes his originally documentary pictures shot in the sub- Saharan Africa and brings them through a digital re-ordering through the addition of colors.

“The idea started when I looked at my daughters picture and said why  not I do something different from the picture by adding something to it. And from there, I worked on it and separated it on the computer” He said.

Through this process, and by  employing the help of specially designed computer Photoshop soft ware packages, Fayemi was able to highlight or hide certain aspects of pictures in their original formats resulting in works, consisting mainly of fine art digital paintings, have progressed and evolved to mixed media collages using primarily fabrics and less so acrylic paint.

The artist, Fayemi added that his recent exhibition, “focuses on “Mothers of Africa”. The mother is colourful in Africa, is a jewel, specifically golden, epitomizing true virtues and plays pivotal role in homes in African societies but not much is heard about them except the negative stories like genital mutilation, widowhood etc. Mothers nurture, not only their own children but also the entire community.  African mothers have been described as workhorse, primary cog in the wheel of human production, the swinging hips on which humanity rests, African beacon, wisdom of the home and the makers of humans.

This exhibition portrays images of mothers and children in a variety of African life’s space and social interactions, for example the Big Sister- Senegal , Meditation- Ethiopia both showing woman carrying a baby at her back.

“My interpretation of ‘mother’ in this context is expansive and includes not only biological mothers, but also all women who nurture children: grandmother, great grandmothers, big sisters, aunts, school teachers and surrogate mothers who care for the millions of orphans on the African continent.”

In his photographs, he draws inspiration from the myriad texture, patterns and the suffusion of colours characteristic of African clothing.  These images according to him are treated with passion and respect taking into consideration the traditional milieu from where the subjects are drawn. Some  of the works exhibited are: Motherhood-Nigeria 1983/2009, Backyard Party-Senegal 1992/2009. Adorned-Mali. 1993/2009, Praise the Lord- Ghana. 1996, Iya ibeji- Zambia.2005 and others.

Fayemi who have spent over 30years in photography, also has to his credit 3 books, Balancing Acts- Photographs from West Africa (1995),Voices From Within, Photographs of African Children(1999,) and Windows To The Soul- Photographs celebrating African Women.(2003) all published in US. His photographs have also been published and exhibited widely in the United States and Europe and are included in many public and private collections.

Fayemi looks beyond the regular photography, whether it is Black and white or colour. According to him,”there is a lot that you can do to pictures rather than the mere collections that people have.”

Fayemi, a recipient of many awards studied photography privately with George Tice at the New School University, New York. Currently he is a Clinical Associate Professor of Pathology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY and Director of Laboratories, St Mary Hospital, Hoboken, NJ.


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