By Stephen Ssenkaaba
AKA Gallery opens a photo exhibition this month. The exhibition which officially opens tomorrow, Saturday 1st is a collection of several photographs by America photographer Thomas Miller.
The exhibition presents landscapes and portraits that many viewers would find interesting. The portraits show faces of people from one of the Horn of Africa’s disappearing communities: The Bumi, Galeb, Hamer, Karo, Mursi and Surma tribes from Ethiopia’s lower Omo river valley are a community unlike most.
Miller focuses his powerful lens on the unique cultural identities of these people- from their sense of dress, to the various decorative ornaments on their faces, this photographer shares the unique ways of life of a community that most of us know very little about.
“None of these tribes has had contact with the world outside theirs for more than a few decades…All decorate, paint and scarify themselves for reasons of tribal identity, personal pride and as an aid in war…” Miller notes.
There is a daunting realism about Miller’s subjects, depicted through the simple, celebratory paintings on their bodies. There is also a cultural tone to his work.
As the viewer will realise, Miller’s subjects do not have much on them, except their thin drapery- (only some of them) and their massively painted bodies- some of his subjects appear naked- stark naked- in a sense speaking to the raw, nearly virgin life that has not been tampered with any foreign influences that have eroded the originality of many indigenous communities. And yet, by capturing these people in their natural settings, he draws our attention to their dwindling presence. And perhaps a need for the redemption of a once thriving community.
Some people will look at this work and judge it for the primitive ways and settings in which Miller’s subjects appear. But as an artist, he had more on his mind than propagating a stereotype.
Miller spent several years compiling these pictures. The detail in there shows an intriguing ability by the artist to capture his subjects at their most natural. This requires a lot of patience.
The terra Incognita series in his work provides a visual cocktail of colourful landscapes in various earthy colours. It shows vast masses of land, in interesting patterns and bold boundaries.
"Terra Incognita was how unexplored territory was labeled on the maps of European Explorers in the Middle Ages. This unexplored territory was a topic of great mystery to them,” Miller says.
The ordinary viewer may read anything out of this. The easthetic value there is unmistakle and the utility of it all, if there need be any, will well depend on how much it all speaks to you. Miller’s exhibition will go on until the end of the month.