Crossing the void – Chapter 1
What you are about to see is a two-voices structured photography research. Giulia Longo and Katia Golovko, both of them young female photographers from Italy and Russia working in West Africa, are going to show us the African context (in particular the Senegalese and the Gambian one) as photographic research developed in a very personal way during their respective stay in the “Senegambia” territory . The focus is concentrated on two aspects that could appear distant one from another, but are linked through an anthropologic, ethnographic, political, and visual analysis which connects the narrative and political vision of Giulia with the intellectual and philosophical urban photography by Katia. They can tell us a new story about Africa as we have never heard (and seen) before, far from conventional stereotypes full of western rhetoric. The two authors system is full of a deep philosophical research around socio-cultural, and anthropologic topics about places and people who are kept on frames through their cameras with a great sense of vision, with the specific purpose to avoid stereotypes of storytelling on Africa. What floats over this synchronic debate is the possibility to look at photography and at its subject through a brand new light, lightened from the massive narration that we drag in our cultural background, opening new spaces for investigations emptied from the topic recognition and filled with a new and unexpected sense of vision. If the Giulia Longo’s research enters in an unceasing strong visual lucubration around the storytelling potentials of the Gambia’s revolutionary youth, the Katia Golovko’s investigation is soaked in a deep intellectual sense of vision, an intimate looking of places and urban environment crossed by thought on identity in the postcolony. In this way the two women mutually complete their work, giving us back an image of Africa clothed of new possibilities for visual issues, and ready for practical implications in a socio-cultural meaning. The philosophy that supports the visual framework by these two young artists in this case is inclined to de-construct and de-cipher the mechanics of recognition and recurrence that the western culture keeps within itself about African cultures, opening new spaces and chances for a study in the direction of meanings around sense of life, disease, misery, poverty, social vexations, but also building new roads in a methodological sense about art, culture and photography.
This is a story. An unfinished one, as every story that takes shape from a real experience. It is both the story of a life and a memoir of a journey. They are interdependent but maintain their own singularity insofar as every voice resounds the peculiarity of the individual. However, these are not single voices. They don’t carry within them the danger of a single story. Because as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie argues “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Any reflection on mortality is also a reflection on life. When we are confronted with death and loss and grief and the departure of a loved one, we either enter into a state of paralysis or we live on knowing that ours will come and the phone that you pick to call to announce the death of another will perhaps be the same phone that will receive or will make another call to announce your death one day – your departure from the earthly plane.
In this do we enter a state of paralysis? Or we enter into a state of great wonderment and great celebration? A festivity – a festival of life to honor death by celebrating life and to honor life by celebrating death.
In primary school my brother was the head boy when I was in grade five and I had no hair because my mom used to cut our hair. Shaved and clean like Tupac, I wore my school uniform that was made like a t-shirt. I know that normally school uniforms are supposed to have buttons down the front, but mine was made like a t-shirt because I would always break all the buttons.
I was very stubborn. But my primary school years were beautiful and I really enjoyed them. It was in Sanyang, which at that time was a proper village, a small village where everybody knew everybody and if you didn’t know somebody you knew their face. The tarmac roads only came later.
My Panafricanism started with music…Reggae music talks about Marcus Garvey, about Africa for Africans, so I had that deep sense of black history. And also I am black and I am proud, and all of these things in the music.
It has been just a constant evolution but there have been certain things that stand out. I remember one time my big brother brought this book home, it was written by some chief, some African guy wrote this book about Africa and that book made sense because everybody knows the lies about Africa as they are told in mainstream history. And in that book he talked about Garvey, Marcus Garvey and he talked about Nkrumah. I read this book so many times and it was funny, because he used to say funny jokes, like for example I could remember where he said when he came to the airport in England and the immigration officer looked at him and said: “Go back whatever jungle you come from in Africa!”
When the word democracy functions as a veil to the conscience, to the agency of the people; when the government of the people becomes a verbal cunning whose only objective is to perpetuate the alienation of the masses, making them unable to analyze the impasse and the prevailing degradation as the starting point to act, unite and organize against the privileges and monopolies of the ruling class, it is up to the vanguard to conquer the glimmer to get out of the mist.
The richness of this vanguard is not in their diplomas nor in their degrees or academic career. It is in the deep knowledge of the concrete reality in which they struggle daily with their people since the ruthless white people landed on their shores.
From then on, history has been repeating itself all over again, reincarnating in twisted terms, sick structures and toxic processes, all devices aborted by the delirium of Western omnipotence. The vanguard can only be constituted by the children of the oppressed, the suffering, the forgotten in rural villages without electricity, the deprived of freedom of movement, the expropriated from the agricultural products, the condemned to adapt to their dehumanization because it is the only way to survive.
Sifo, a man we meet in one of the places where you smoke harangues, confesses to us his disaffection with politics, while intent on explaining the smoking process. He has been working here since 1988, every month he has to pay the government 200 dalasis for the maintenance fee but every damage to the structure, like the shaky roof, he has to repair himself, from his own pocket. We all agree that paying taxes without having any material evidence on the improvement of infrastructure is a real abuse.
President Jawara built the oven in which he works, shortly after independence. Since then, no government has been involved in maintenance or renovation work. It is not that business is bad. Quite the contrary. Sifo proudly tells us that customers for his harangues come from as far as Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria and Burkina Faso and fill their cargos with his fish.
As he explains to me how every day he comes to check the fire at 5 in the morning and to put the harangues under the ashes that have to cook slowly for five days, I feel like photographing the moment as the light is perfect. The fissures penetrate beams of light that illuminate the place and leave his face in a twilight.
Sifo lets himself be photographed on one condition only – that the next time, no matter in how many years’ time, I come back to give him his picture.
While from the viewfinder, I watch him gently move the harangues lined up next to each other on the grid, Famara’s words ring out to me when just before entering the kiln we noticed the general poor state of the market and the buildings. The floor is a mixture of mud, sand, and water, organic and non-organic waste. “These men and these women are the engine of the economy, if they stop the country no longer walks.” Yet I see, how invisible they are, and not because they are unable to make a living or do not have skills. It’s the lack of adequate means and conditions that give dignity and increase the quality of their work, their life and their health.
Once again, I find myself in front of the nobodies, temporarily trapped in a spiral of blackouts, of roads flooded by the rain, of lack of welfare and social services.
Hundreds and thousands are the men and women here who throughout their entire lives have never had five hundred Euros in their hands. These are the mothers and fathers of the country and their sons and daughters are willing to build a better present, for themselves. They are tired of sleeping on uncomfortable beds, tired of the flooding rooftops, tired of the stalls destroyed during the rainy season, disgusted with the smell of the market and the mismanagement of the cleaning services.
Today, the youth wishes to never see a naked child in a dusty street of Manjai or Kotu again, washing himself with a plastic cup. The youth wishes to never encounter a group of children playing football with a holed soccer ball again.
However, they never cease to smile these kids, as the ones I have met yesterday near the clinic who let me play with them.
My evolution has a lot to do with this place, it was in Kololi that I’ve encountered anarchist politics and I became very deep in anarchism and also in my political activism against the State.
What makes Kololi different than other places like Bijilo, Brufut or Kotu is that Kololi has still a working class vibe, a lumpen vibe, people hanging out and chilling. Also I got used to the place, there’s something special when you got used to an environment and you know everybody and everybody knows you, for me it’s like my second home apart from my village.
Last time I went to the beach in Brufut Heights and I was in the car with Babou, one of my friends. I was telling him that in the streets there there’s nobody, there’s nobody outside while in Kololi you can find people in the streets chatting, selling stuff, smoking and drinking attaya any time of the day and the night.
Brufut Heights, not the heart of Brufut itself which is more or less like Kololi, is one of the rich neighborhoods, it’s a place catered for rich people, there’s more community in Kololi on so many levels and even if it’s getting gentrified it still has that authentic, so called Gambian community, because you can find the rich houses and next to them our people still living in their compounds washing clothes by hand in the courtyard, cooking meals on charcoal or sitting under the shade of a baobab tree and an old portable radio broadcasting Mbalax or Afro Manding.
It’s a confluence where the rich and the poor dance into each other, in constant motion, but it’s getting more expensive to live in Kololi and there’d come a time when maybe I will have to move out if I cannot afford it anymore but I hope and pray that I will be able to fight against the gentrification. Even the people are complaining about it but there’s no political action to stop it, because of the capitalist indoctrination we don’t talk about gentrification and because from childhood they tell us that it is normal that rich people should have better places whiles we have poorer places.
Giulia Longo MA graduate in Anthropology in Venice, with a one-year study abroad experience at International University of Rabat and several years of experience as a freelance author and photographer. Currently seeking to undertake doctoral research in Creative Writing.