During the Cape Town Art Fair last week, I had the great pleasure of meeting and listening to two of the most inspiring women. Renowned photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher presented their captivating story and a selection of powerful images from their latest book African Twilight: Vanishing Rituals & Ceremonies in large format on the walls of the THK Gallery.
Showing unbelievable patience and perseverance, these intrepid travelers, armed with their Nikons, have spent over 40 years exploring our beautiful continent, covering more than 500 000km and 48 countries, documenting traditional rituals and ceremonies of the many tribes of Africa.
Their working adventures together began in Kenya in the late 70s at a time when communication was limited to landlines and the postal service, yet they’ve managed to access often extremely remote regions on foot, by camel or car, with the rare privilege of being welcomed into communities who’d had little or no prior contact with Westerners. Of the rites of passage, rituals of courtship, marriage, death and the afterlife, revealed through the 750 colour photographs in the double-volume 864-page publication, over 40 percent have now vanished, highlighting the importance of their work.
This incredible document is also a red flag. While we may have become very connected through easier travel and technology, we are quickly losing touch with important ceremonies that keep us grounded, connected to the land and even ourselves. “We need to understand the messages coming from ancient cultures,” says Beckwith.
For a brighter future without conflict, Fisher advocates a true “understanding and respect of each other’s cultures and beliefs” beyond fleeting moments on social media, “because we are all human beings with same needs and emotions”. This is their first solo exhibition on the continent and is not to be missed.
• African Twilight is at THK Gallery until February 28.