Last week I had to travel to Brasilia for business – a very long trip from London. I only had a few hours of spare time but managed to stumble across a photography exhibition at the Museu Nacional – a spectacular work of architecture. The exhibition was called ‘Hereros Angola‘ and the photographer was Sergio Guerra. Now this was a large exhibition in the capital of Brazil, the 5th largest country in the world. But, interestingly for me, and the point of this learning log entry, is that I did not know of the photographer, and, being unable to read Portuguese, the information on the walls, and the captions to the photographs, meant nothing to me. How wonderful, the chance to work out what the photographer has to say based purely on the images with no other clues! So what did I think the exhibition was about?
Unlike typical images of Angola, this series seemed quite joyful. The children seemed happy and well-fed. They seemed curious and willing to engage with the photographer – ‘protective’ parents were sometimes present but didn’t feature within the photographs i.e. their faces remained unseen.
The images centred around a festival or celebration of some sort. This seemed to be predominantly a ritual involving women and there were very few images of men. Many of the women, wearing ritual adornments, were strikingly beautiful. I noted that some of these images seemed more like fashion shoots than images of tribal women. Of course, there were also environmental portraits showing their simple shelters unencumbered by material possessions. The photographer then moved further in still, taking close ups of hands, wrists and adornments in order to provide detail.
To me, the exhibition seemed to give a sense of the people and their experiences. My feeling was that they lead simple but joyful lives. A series of graphic silhouettes served to emphasise the celebratory nature of the ceremonial occasion depicted. However, one very striking image seemed to stand apart. The photographer chose an elevated viewpoint in order to capture the whole of the village – 9 small huts surrounded by a circular barricade. It seemed startling or humbling that all of this apparent joy was emanating from such a small and simple community.
Having given my take on the exhibition, I have since ‘googled’ the photographer to see how close my interpretation came. As I suspected the photographer established a long-running and deep relationship with the Hereros people, semi-nomadic shepherds with an ancient culture. He spent a long time living with them and clocked up more than 10,000 images. More details on the, (translated), Hereros Angola‘ link.