CORAL GABLES, FL.- The Africa most often portrayed in the western media is of refugee camps, starving children, people with AIDS, or of perishing traditional ceremonies. While these stories are extremely relevant to our global knowledge, other aspects of African life are often overlooked, states photographer Alison Randall Williams.
The University of Miamis Department of Art & Art History and The New Gallery, in collaboration with Africana Studies, and several student organization cosponsors, present a thoughtful and visually stunning celebration of African culture with Africa / A Harvest of Quiet Eyes from January 18 through February 12, 2005. A special opening reception will be held on Friday, January 21 from 7- 9 p.m. at The New Gallery and is free and open to the public.
Alison Williams photographs, along with photographs by three other women artists, comprise one part of this exhibition and lecture series that shows Africa as a vibrant force where culture and commerce thrive. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Through the Eyes of Children: The Rwanda Project, a series of 26 photographs taken by child survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
The childrens photographs are the result of continuing photographic workshops for children who live at the Imbabaz Orphanage, in Gisenyi, Rwanda. The workshop program, established by photographer David Jiranek and Imbabazi Orphanage founder Rosamond Carr, gives Rwandan children disposable cameras and encourages them to capture images of each other and their community. The photographs are on a national tour to mark the tenth anniversary of the genocide. Africa / A Harvest of Quiet Eyes, its collaborators and sponsors, encourage us to examine and reflect upon this tragedy, which began April 7, 1994.
Several of the childrens photographs have won prestigious awards including First Prize Portraiture in the 2001 Camera Arts Magazine Photo Contest, and Honorable Mention in the adult category of an international competition featuring professional and non-professional photographers. This is a considerable accomplishment considering an 8-year-old girl on her first roll of film took one of the award-winning photographs.
The fifteen photographs in Alison Williams exhibit, Women of Mali / Spirit of Resilience, highlight the humanistic and community aspects of African life by showing African women completing daily chores and interacting with one another, an element of African life not often seen by many Westerners. These portraits of Malian people come from three years of documenting while working as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1997 to 1999 and on two separate return trips in 2000. Some of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of a collaborative documentary project on the lives of thirteen women from different regions in Mali. Their own recorded words and stories give us an extraordinary glimpse at life in the ordinary pursuit of survival . . .
Vera Viditz-Wards life as a professional photographer began in Sierra Leone, West Africa, twenty years ago with free-lance assignments working for various state ministries and international agencies. Vera Viditz-Wards exhibit of fifteen photographs, Other Africas / Sierra Leone depicts people living through an ongoing war and continuous political and economic crisis. My photographs illustrate the blend of indigenous and colonial cultures as Sierra Leoneans struggle with the complexity of their post-colonial existence and attempt to define and develop their relationship to the rest of Africa, Europe, and America, she explains. I realized there was indeed much that needed to be photographed beyond the stereotypical Western images of Africans, which presented them as "primitive" people, mired in poverty, disease and chronic political turmoil . . .
Also featured are Betty Presss series of fifteen photographs entitled Africa in Images and Proverbs. Betty has been taking photographs in Africa since 1987. These images of ceremonies and everyday life were taken while on travel all over East and West Africa. Each image is coupled with a relevant African proverb. Proverbs are rhythmic, poetic, instructive, easy to remember and pleasing to hear. Joined together African proverbs and images make a powerful _expression of African life and the universality of human emotions, ideas, and behavior . . . For example, in one image a young boy imitates the photographer. The caption reads When a child behaves like an adult, he sees what the adult sees.
Photographs of Panafest 2003 / Ghana by Sharon Umoja Rock, sponsored by the Government of Barbados Commission for Pan-African Affairs, rounds out the exhibition. Sharon Umoja Rock, from Barbados, West Indies, has traveled extensively and photographed in Thailand, U.S.A., 10 European countries and 11 African countries, visiting Ghana three times before Panafest 2003. She had her first solo exhibition in May 2004 in Barbados, and has a permanent exhibition in the Africa section of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Rocks contribution of fifteen photographs, like those of Williams, serves to deconstruct the image of Africa as a starving, war-ravaged, disunited continent.