Follow Us on Twitter

Portraits from Africa - 3 Bedfordbury Gallery

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

CAPITAL Culture is presenting Portraits from Africa, an exhibition of photographs by John Kenny, at 3 Bedfordbury Gallery from May 15 to May 30, 2009.

John Kenny’s stunning images from the mysterious regions of Africa document a series of tribal societies justly proud of their traditions and cultural heritage. As the continent becomes increasingly urbanised and environmental pressures continue to grow on peoples living at the peripheries of the modern world, such images have become precious and increasingly rare insights.

Kenny has photographed in regions that stretch from the southern hinterlands of the Sahara, homeland to the Fula, the largest surviving group of nomadic people, to the valleys of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, and beyond to the deserts of the Kalahari.

Faces emerge from the shadows illuminated by a soft and diffuse natural light. The innocence and beauty behind the piercing gaze perhaps challenges the presumption of an Africa immersed in corruption, conflict and hunger.

In the Atakora mountains of Benin, the Betammaribe have separated themselves from outsiders since the times of the Atlantic slave trade. They live in castle-like mud huts and use an intricate pattern of facial scarification that through a series of delicate vertical or horizontal lines mirrors the way they plough the earth that sustains them.

In the semi-arid Sahel of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the elegant Fula wander with their animals through the dry marginal lands bordering the Sahara. Their society places huge importance on beauty, enhanced by jewellery and facial tattoos.

In Kenya, Kenny visited nomadic and semi-nomadic communities in the desert landscapes of northern Kenya to photograph the Samburu, Rendille and Turkana, some of the most colourful and visually striking people of the entire continent.

As Kenny explains: “I am fascinated by the people of Africa, and this was my first chance to visit those in the west of the continent. Some of the tribes that I met inhabited incredibly harsh environments, such as those straddling the southern fringes of the Sahara. Despite this difficult setting, and amongst a backdrop of sand, dust and heat, you can find the most beautiful people flourishing with very unpredictable resources. My photography gives me the chance to witness such unique African cultures first-hand, and hopefully provides an insight into the lives of these fascinating people.”

Admission: Free.

Times: Daily from 11am to 6pm.

3 Bedfordbury, Covent Garden, London, WC2N 4BP

Tel: 020 7836 0824