I went into the mall today. It’s way busier than normal and full of Chanel and Oroton stalls that instantly make me want to spend lots of money and take home a pristine, shiny box. The coffee shops have rolled out their Christmas cups to add a bit of festive cheer to our landfill (who am I kidding, I get over-the-top excited about Christmas coffee cups) and the shops have huge posters exhorting us to give. It’s only the third of December, but it feels like Christmas has already been around forever, and I’m feeling a weird mix of cynicism and excitement.
A couple of days ago the lovely Romy Sai Zunde pointed me in the direction of Hans Silvester’s photos of the Surma and Mursi tribes in the L’Omo Valley on the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. These are nomadic tribes, who express their artistic creativity by decorating their bodies with pigments made from volcanic rock, flowers, leaves, grass, shells and animal horns. The beautiful images have stuck with me: the careful, elaborate self expression, the sheer joy of such exuberant adornment, the excitement of transfiguring found objects and vegetation into precious embellishment.
Maybe they’re so haunting because it’s precisely the moment in our year when the pressure to buy things is most acute. These images are a reminder that for us, beauty, self expression (and even the idea of demonstrating love) are heavily commodified – they’re wrapped up in plastic and mediated through big brands. Brands with a high stake in our dissatisfaction with ourselves, whose sole aim is to get us to buy more stuff – expensive, shiny, enticing stuff.
Of course I like putting on a bit of my Chanel lippie (it is lovely lipstick), but I can’t help but imagine a sense of freedom in these images that’s missing as we buckle down and rack up the credit card debt in preparation for another Christmas.
P.S. Hans Silvester’s book Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa would make a really lovely Christmas gift!
This vintage National Geographic photo makes my toes go tingly. Overhanging Rock in Yosemite National Park, May 1924.
Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth‘s series Eyes as Big as Plates is super quirky and strangely, strikingly beautiful. “Ritta writes “Inspired by the romantics’ belief that folklore is the clearest reflection of the soul of a people, Eyes as Big as Plates started out as a play on characters and protagonists from Norwegian folklore” The series is a collaboration with “sailors, farmers, professors, artisans, psychologists, teachers, parachuters and senior citizens.”
I hope when I’m old I get to dress up in natural materials and pose in a river. The lady above is so lovely. I think she’s going to be my beauty icon from now on.
Via It’s Nice That . Go to Eyes as Big as Plates for all the outrageous loveliness.
At first, briefly, Africa dismayed me: a whole new continent. The familiar contours of my anxiety.
Nairobi, Kenya. The highway from the airport to our hotel. Light through dust and throngs of people walking along the side of the road. There is a very well dressed lady standing in the middle of a huge pile of dead chickens, groups of men are playing checkers with bottle caps on the side of the road. Tiny, run down houses and muddy stalls.
My dad spent his childhood in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. My grandfather was a missionary. He wasn’t born religious, one day in the 1950s he was watching a film about the crucifixion, and the actor playing Jesus had looked directly into his eyes, and although his lips didn’t move he said I did this for you. So the hard labouring, ex-serviceman young husband retrained as a minister, and he and his wife took their young family, including an ill, paraplegic son and and a three year old, to Africa.
I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed whenever I’ve had to own up to my family’s stake in the sheer arrogance of white colonial imperialism. When grandpa died, I went to the nursing home in Haberfield to collect his things. They had stripped the mattress but I could still rest my hand in the dent where his body had been. I collected his clothes, his wedding photo, his battered bible. He left Mum and Dad some money and instead of letting it be subsumed in the endless grocery/credit card payments cycle, they decided to spend on a holiday, of sorts – a family trip to Africa. Continue reading
These images are by Austrian photographer Rosa Rendl via booooooom. I love the way the views caught at angles, in fragments, make you focus on the colours and the flat, painted quality of the images.
Earlier this year we went to Africa, and I’m finally getting round to sorting through the thousands of photos I took. Like these ones. We’d stopped in the picnic area of Tangerie National Park in Tanzania. It was on top of a hill and looking out over the plane there were hundreds of elephants. As we were eating a little squirrel darted around our feet looking for crumbs, and we could hear squawks and rustling in the nearby bushes. After lunch I wandered over to the source of the commotion. Monkeys! I ducked under the branches and while they watched me warily at first, they kept on with what they were doing, and they didn’t seem to mind the shutter sound on the camera either. I felt all David Attenborough-y.
There was such a maternal, human feeling between this mum and her baby. She was very affectionate – it looks just like love!
And … the squirrel!