Tag Archives: Sierra Leone

Review: ’42’ photography exhibition

42 is the name of an exhibition featuring photographs of women from Sierra Leone by British photographer Lee Karen Stow currently being exhibited at the Horniman Museum, South London.

The exhibition features women in a range of everyday settings but behind each image is a powerful and extraordinary story. 42 was originally exhibited in 2007, when Stow sought to document the brilliance and resilience of women from this previously war torn nation.

Having recovered from a civil war, the Ebola virus and now flooding, Sierra Leone (which means Lion Mountain in Portuguese), is unsurprisingly one of the poorest countries in the world but ironically one of the richest countries in terms of its natural resources. A decision to re-exhibit the collection, could not have come at a more opportune moment, serving as a reminder of the incredible strength and courage of Sierra Leonean people.

The exhibition’s title is a powerful and poignant statement because 42 was the average life expectancy of women in Sierra Leone when the photos were originally taken. Despite modest improvements, the average life expectancy is still extremely low, making it one of the worst in the world.

The exhibition features a broad spectrum of Sierra Leonian womanhood all within their ‘natural’ habitat: women boxers in action, fashion models striking a pose, agricultural workers tilling the land, faith filled women crying out to God, mothers and children in a variety of settings, nurses caring for those in need, brigadiers exuding power and disrupting traditionally masculine spheres, human rights activists -dignified, powerful and poised- the list is endless. It also managed to feature the First Lady of Sierra Leone – Sia Nyama Koroma.

At first glance, these seem like pretty ordinary images, but what Stow has done is to cleverly encapsulate an extraordinary breadth of women related issues, anchored by the accompanying blurbs. High infant mortality and maternal deaths rates, Female Genital Mutilation, girls education and gender equality, single parent households, women in work, women operating in traditionally male fields (I.e. boxing and the Army),faith as an anchor in everyday life, women pursuing their dreams despite the adversity – all of this and more is brought to life in 42. The photos also subtly promote some of the initiatives providing innovative solutions to these issues whilst also building solidarity and empowering the women.

Strength, perseverance, character, beauty and determination permeate these beautifully vivid and bold images of Sierra Leonean women. What gives this exhibition added poignancy is that a few of the subjects, are now deceased including one of the children photographed as a result of poor health care. Despite some of the grim subject matters covered, 42’s dominant narrative is hope.

The only criticism I have is of the location of 42 within the museum. Even though it is ideally placed on the upper floor (along the main balcony area of the museum) the area is dimly lit and in my view, limits the viewer’s experience. Similarly the exhibition is broken up by the museum’s permanent Romanian heritage collection which is slightly disorientating and disruptive.

42 is running until Sept 27th at the Hornimans Museum in Forest Hill, South London. The exhibition is free.

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Gentleman- In memory of dad

In the early hours of Tuesday 20th January 2015 we said goodnight to Popcicle aka dad.  It is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but feel strangely at peace knowing he is no longer in pain and thankful to God for blessing my siblings and I with a man like him for a father.

Even in death he looked beautiful laying there- his stunning eyes closed for the final time, skin flawless, lips slightly pursued open as if his mouth was the final point from which his spirit could depart.

My dad was a very wise man, multi-talented, strong, hardworking, highly creative, passionate, rebellious, funny, kind and frighteningly intelligent- in the words of my aunt he was the ‘crown jewel’ In the family. And as clichéd as it sounds he did have the X factor and knew how to light up a room just by his sheer presence.

My dad loved people, loved life and lived for his family.  He was so funny and bubbly without even trying- even the nurse called him a true showman. In another life he would easily have been a Nollywood actor, creative director and film director (all rolled in one) because he was that  comical and theatrical. In fact some of my fondest memories in the past few months have involved watching Nollywood movies with dad. He couldn’t stop his running commentary whether its to do with the scenery, the plot (or lack of) or the shocking use of music; “this film is pay as you go- they are making up the scripts as they go along” he would say irritated.

My dad: officially one of the coolest people on the planet

My dad: officially one of the coolest people to have graced planet Earth

Dad could turn his hands to anything and had many different jobs in his lifetime-a soldier, a child model (he once won a competition to be the Cocoa Butter kid, winning a year’s supply as part of the prize), a fashion designer, interior designer, painter/decorator, handyman, self- taught electrician and plumber, trainee chef, gardener, carpenter- there was very little he couldn’t do. A little known secret, (though not anymore), is that my dad had on more than one occasion, rescued several people from a house fire just because he could (talk about modern day superhero!!!).

He was generous to a fault- as a child I remember dad buying ice cream for children on our council estate at the same time he would buy ice cream for us, his children. He couldn’t help himself- as long as he had change in his pocket he would always want to bless others no matter how small.  Even in death his generosity knew no bounds; though he wasn’t gifted with a new set of lungs, he decided he wanted to be an organ donor- giving life to others even though he had every right to bitterly hold his organs hostage.

Dad always had a twinkle in his eye and was renowned for being mischievous with a quick mouth and a knack for one liners. Only a few days before he died he was engaging in banter with the nurse.

”Mr Olu are you allergic to anything?” she would ask before giving him his injection.  “No just people” he would say swiftly followed by a school boy smirk. He was a text book extrovert finding the company of people life giving and loved nothing more than to express himself verbally; in his own words, “if I can’t speak I might as well die.”

Dad was a seasoned traveller with perpetual itchy feet and subsequently lived/visited many parts of Europe (Spain, France, Netherlands), the Americas (USA for a few years whilst travelling often to the Caribbean) and Africa (Nigeria and Ghana). He was a true global citizen proud of his Nigerian, Sierra Leonean and Brazilian heritage. He was a cultural chameleon fluent in Yoruba, Creole, English and Patois.  Dad was equally at home speaking in his native tongue (Yoruba) and switching it up at a moment’s notice (to Patois for example) depending on the company which he often did much to my horror!

Anyone who knew dad knew he was a masterful story teller and adventurer-some of the things he experienced in life would blow your mind-mixing with millionaires, members of the royal family, celebrities but then also finding himself in dire circumstances;  he lived nothing short of a FULL life and had the wisdom to go along with it. Dad loved to share his wisdom with anyone who would listen and most of the time it was superb even if you weren’t in the mood to hear it! I now realize in hindsight that this was one of the many gifts God had placed within him.

As we gathered round his bedside that morning, we reminisced on the good times laughing and playing songs that reminded us of him. Each song had its own story, some of which I would love to share with you.

  • Gentleman-Fela: This was Dad’s favourite and has coincidentally become my favourite track. Dad use to tell the story of this song being synonymous of being young, free and single before he started having children. He and his friends would regularly go to the Shrine- Fela’s night club and this would be one of their jams! Cue Black John Travolta- starched 70’s flares, large lapel shirts, gold chain with a small pendant and a huge Afro. They would step to this song as soon as the bass dropped- just the thought of it makes me smile.
  • Bob Marley’s Exodus album- summer evenings, Guinness drinking, incense mingled with other ‘earthy’ fragrances, dad’s friends over, the sitting room temporarily transformed into the ‘boys den’- debating sounded like they were having a fight- good times.
  • Johnny Nash- the whole best of album but especially Cupid beautiful childhood memories – either over Sunday dinner or driving back in the car from grandma’s or some aunty’s house.
  • Any song by Jim Reeves – The soundtrack of Sundays as a child and Christmas throughout my entire life. If Jim Reeves is not playing then it is not Christmas according to dad.

I am going to miss him beyond words but ever grateful to him and my many friends who prayed for us along this painful journey. I think about his legacy to my siblings and I and know that we are blessed and highly favoured to have had him as a father and role model.  And throughout these past few years, as dad battled with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis-a little known serious lung disease, God had His hand on us right from the very beginning and even in the end He was with us. My dad refused to die defying odds, determined to live & in fact lived much longer than even he expected! The last 4 years have been tough losing 3 father figures but I find solace in knowing that my dad is in good company- resting in the eternal presence of the Almighty Father.

For more information on becoming an organ donor visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

To consider donating to the British Lung Foundation visit http://www.blf.org.uk

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‘What’s going on?’ 5 situations on the continent which break my heart

As an Afropolitan I cannot ignore recent events happening on the continent; some of which have been afforded the privilege of mainstream media attention and high profile political engagement, others not so. Admittedly there are moments when I have become increasingly desensitised to yet another story pertaining to disease, conflict, death and famine in Africa. This is just one of many narratives (albeit a dominant one favoured by mainstream media) which seem to strengthen the misrepresentation of Africa as a hopeless, perpetually conflicted, ‘dark’ continent-one that I am loathe to endorse. That’s when I have to remind myself that Africa’s story is as rich, varied, colourful and multifaceted as the countries which dwell within her borders. However I do want to raise awareness of five situations in five countries on the continent, which are pretty devastating and has been laid on my heart to share. Some you will be very familiar with and others not so but all deserve recognition.

1.South Sudan- Conflict, Famine and Water Lilies

The world’s newest nation has had a turbulent genesis since it’s emergence in 2011, due to internal conflict between the Government and opposition forces. Thousands have died, millions have been left displaced and the country is on the brink of famine. And although it is no longer on the mainstream news agenda it is still happening. I saw this photo a few months ago which both mesmerises and horrifies me – leaving a lingering sadness that won’t go away. A beautiful little girl reduced to eating water lilies – which I am certain has no nutritional value- because it is the only root that is edible and available in the region.

Young Sudanese girl eating water lilies  Photo credit (c) BBC

Young Sudanese girl eating water lilies Photo credit (c) BBC

2. Sierra Leone and the Ebola Effect

Every week I speak with a gentleman who works in the local supermarket and is of Sierra Leonean descent. Most times our conversations are light-hearted and brief but this one was different. He shared that he had been working 6 days a week- 16 hours each day (2 jobs), for the past year in order to save money to reinvest ‘back home’ and to provide for his family. However, his plans to travel home have been left in tatters because of the restrictions on travelling to the country. A gentleman normally so calm and composed was clearly distressed when relaying the situation:

“I have been building back home, I have my family back home but I can’t go and it hurts me. Every time I get a phone call, I am fearful of bad news.  My family were telling me of people being afraid to leave their homes and if they are sick, they are afraid to go to the hospital because they feel they will be wrongly judged to have Ebola. Schools have closed down, hospitals left abandoned because some workers are not wanting to come in and risk being infected.  People are languishing like prisoners in their homes- not able to work and their children not able to go to school. Even communities where neighbours who related well to one another no longer communicate, everyone keeps to themselves.  I don’t know what is happening to my country.”

3. Nigeria- 2,000 reasons and counting

This can pretty much be summed up by the following hashtags #JesuisNigerian #Nigeria2000 #BringBackourGirls and I propose another ahead of the General Elections next month #GetGoodluckOut.  There is so much I could say but here is an article which comes very closes to articulating my exact thoughts on the matter.

No introduction needed

No introduction needed

4. Malawi- the Floods

Malawi is not one of those countries you hear of often-whether in the news or in daily conversation (unless of course you are from there or have connections to it). I have long been intrigued by this relatively peaceful, small, landlocked nation since I had a primary school friend who was of Asian Malawian descent. However the country is now back on the news agenda due to the recent flooding which at last count has killed almost 200 people and left over 200,000 people homeless. There is great concern re. ensuring clean water, proper sanitation and food can be distributed to those who need it. This is further compounded by the fact Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Next door neighbours, Mozambique have also been affected by the floods.

5.Congo- Panzi Hospital

In the words of Tatiana Giraud- a Congolese Activist ‘How can it be right that a public general hospital that has helped 30,000 rape victims and continuously helps the local community even by providing meals for the poor is taxed?’  The Panzi hospital recently had their bank accounts seized by the Congolese Government. This means it cannot pay staff, buy medical equipment and is in a state of deadlock. Congo was once dubbed the rape capital of the world by a UN Official because of the extensive use of rape as a weapon of warfare in the conflict-ridden eastern part of the country. This makes the work of the hospital even more vital as it is based in Bukavu in the same region. This vital, life giving, service could now be at risk unless action is taken.

Created by award-winning copywriter and blogger Magnus Shaw

Created by award-winning copywriter and blogger Magnus Shaw

How can you get involved?

Sign the petition here 

Join in the social media campaign by: tweeting foreign secretary, William Hague @WilliamJHague and include the following hashtags  #Panzi #FreePanzi

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