Monday, February 16, 2009

The Photography of Hans Silvester

This work was brought to my attention last week. Stunning! Hans Silvester is a german photographer who worked in the Ethiopian Omo Valley. It really speaks to our relationship with nature and beauty...

Roberta Smith of the New York Times wrote on September 26th, 2008

"At once revelatory and disturbing, these color photographs taken over the last five years by Hans Silvester, a German photographer, document the extraordinary body painting of the Surma and Mursi peoples of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. Semi-nomadic warriors, they live primarily by keeping large herds of cattle; their only Western accessory seems to be the Kalashnikov rifles they trade with Sudanese tribes.

They paint themselves or one another two or three times a day, using pigment made from earth or ground stone mixed with water. Executed quickly, the abstract, vibrantly patterned motifs reflect a sophisticated vocabulary of mark-making, finger-painting and hand-printing techniques; they extend across faces and sometimes center on a single feature, like a breast. They function as personal decoration, cultural expression and, when ash and cattle urine are added, insect repellent. Mr. Silvester says these people's interest in their painting supersedes any in sculpture, mask making, music or dance.

Mr. Silvester's pictures are almost exclusively closely cropped views of painted torsos, which objectify the subjects and enable us to look at them without them looking back. Yet the ephemeral art we encounter is humbling; it further erodes the idea of abstraction or painting as Western forms. They become basic human traits, expressed here with a skill that accrues through daily practice from childhood on. I'm grateful to learn of their existence, but can't help wondering what, if anything, art-world attention might bring them."


Jutka said...

Dear Jane Fulton,

I also discovered these photographs recently, when a friend emailed them to me. To me they are the most beutiful images of body decoraton I have ever seen. Thank you for your article which gives more information about the tribes.

What appeals so much is that the decoration, or "make-up" is also often the clothing or "fashion". It puts the Paris catwalks in the shade.

Like you, I hope that media attention does not erode or adulterate the vivaciousness of their artistic expression. But I think it's wonderful to be aware of the tribes.

Anonymous said...

if you like the book, you'll be blown away if you see the images! got to see them at fmopa in tampa, it was tremendous!