Book of the Month: African Twilight Vanishing Rituals & Ceremonies

Nicky’s most recent trip to South Africa, only last month to install an NDID project in Cape Town, always provides her with an opportunity to explore galleries and exhibitions that don’t always make it over to Europe.

Our Book of the Month this March stems from a visit to THK Photography Gallery at 52 Waterkant Street, Cape Town. Late last year the gallery opened their doors to ‘African Twilight – The Vanishing Rituals and Ceremonies of the African Continent’ an exhibition by photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher. This beautiful Rizzoli published book accompanies the travelling exhibition.

Above, after the harvest when the Kara have leisure time, courtship season begins. Young men go down to the river bank to paint using a mixture of chalk and water The designs will wear off after a day of dancing and be repainted the next morning.

African Twilight is a celebration of the beautiful artistry and boundless creativity of Africa’s cultural heritage, transporting viewers into a world of connections between individual and community, body and soul, land and people.

Beckwith and Fisher capture the various ceremonies and cultural practices in all of their stunning vibrant colours and the ecstatic movements of their dances as they perform. 

The book manages to record these moments in all of their context, complexity, and beauty without ever disrupting or intruding into the cultural space of the ceremony even as it captures image after image in exquisite detail. African Twilight reinforces just how meaningful these moments of initiation, kinship, and the changing of the natural world is to those who live in these communities, and seeks to reinforce the importance of valuing and preserving these cultures.

The exhibition photographs, covering the last 15 years of work in 45 African countries, bring the vibrancy, intimacy, personal connection and meaningful understanding for which the Beckwith and Fisher collaboration is renowned. The images capture the vast cultural diversity of the continent and span the human life cycle from birth to death, covering unique initiation ceremonies into adulthood, colourful rituals of courtship and marriage.

Performing the courtship dance, young Kara men form long lines and leap high in the air to impress the admiring young women.

Above Right, A portrait of a young warrior at the close of the Herr Heroon ceremony.

People often ask us, “How do you get such intimate photographs of people?” Well, you have to really gain trust before you can have access into a ceremony, and before you can photograph it in a really true fashion. When we arrive in Africa, we take on African time, which means we slow down considerably. We live with people in communities. We make friends, gain trust, and then we start to photograph…” explains Beckwith. 

Shields made of wooden slats and decorated with ocher, chalk, and charcoal are carried by the older initiates, who lead the younger boys across the field in the direction of the village. The boys are carried on the shoulders of their masked mentors back to the village, where they will be reunited with their families.

“We also believe in giving back photographs that we’ve taken of people for them to keep. Either in a Polaroid fashion or showing it to them on the screen on a camera. When we started working in the ’70s and ’80s, we would take large-format photographs back to the people we photographed. The problem with getting photographs back into Sudan for example was that there was a civil war for 30 years. Carol and I had done a very big shoot with the Dinka in Sudan, but we couldn’t get back” shares Fisher. 

All images c/o African Twilight: The Vanishing Cultures and Ceremonies of the African Continent by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, Rizzoli, 2018.

Published by Rizzoli, the book is available now, and can be ordered here.

Nicky’s World March 2019