spear of a nation

Cynthia MaiWa Sitei

2021 - Ongoing

Wales, United Kingdom

Responding to the photographic archive of British Social Anthropologist Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard at Pitt Rivers Museum Database, I embark on a fieldwork expedition of my own, using reverse psychology and I play with the notion of time to explore colonial legacies and the effects change of clothing and language have on my people’s identity. In 1936 Evans-Pritchard toured Luo land and took over 300 photographs of Luo people dressed in European clothing. He described those in Westernised clothes as ‘dignified men’ ‘well-dressed’ ‘clever and educated man’ ‘civilised’ and those in Luo dressing (to him ‘costume’) as ‘primitive’ ‘uncivilised’ and ‘possessed by spirits.’

While I am grateful that times have changed since 1936, an African woman explorer embarking on an expedition to investigate and explore her culture, traditional practices, and the psychological effects of dress and uniform on people especially from an outsider observer’s perspective would be unheard of at the time. I am passionate about this project because I am critically reflecting on my own people's practices, culture and questioning the notion of assimilation and acculturation among Kenyans today while at the same time looking through Evans-Pritchard's eyes at the time of his expedition to Kenya in 1936. At this moment in time, my project is in the research and development phase, therefore, funding from PHmuseum 2021 Women Photographers Grant will support my project immensely by allowing me to investigate the archival collections of Evans-Pritchard in depth, and approach and collaborate with a writer from Kenyan: Jackson Biko otherwise known by his pen name as Biko Zulu.

I envision this project as a book publication as I explore new narratives around Evans-Pritchard’s collection of images because often what is shown to us is not always abundantly clear especially when dealing with traces of lived realities.

Furthermore, I see this as an exciting challenge, mainly because in my current job as Creative Producer at Ffotogallery, I have recently curated a physical exhibition called More Than a Number which coincided with this year’s fifth biennial Diffusion Festival. It allowed me to support the thought-provoking and exceptional work of 12 photographers from Africa whom I admire and respect - I feel like I am at that stage in my life where I need to push my own personal practice, take risks, fail, and learn from a mentor especially and likewise distant peers who are past winners.

Collaborating with a writer such as Biko Zulu who fuses African literature with African myth and folk tales will provoke perspectives especially with regards to the lack of critical discourse about the work produced by artists from Africa and what it means to care and value for our material culture and present it everywhere for people to engage with and learn from. I also believe the artist/photographer makes the linkages whereas the storyteller forges the bonds, tying past and present. Engaging with Santu Mofokeng’s book “The Black Photo Album” has helped me acknowledge the importance of caring and preserving as well as sharing our own material culture for everyone to engage with in every sense – especially on a lack of access point of view.

The images are all taken in black and white film, developed, and processed by me and not one is altered to look like an archival or old picture – the technical faults and aesthetic are a way of reacting to Evans-Pritchard’s collection of images rather than reproducing them. As mentioned above, the funding will support my endeavour to finish the documentation phase, collaborate with Biko Zulu in responding to the images I produce with reference to the archival collection of Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard at Pitt Rivers Museum leading up to the book publication which is my goal and specially to work with the publishers, Archive of Modern Conflict.

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  • car packed on a dirt road, packed with equipment. Used to transport Evans-Pritchard on his tour around Luo land in 1936.

  • “Samuel’s Family” Luo men had many wives and children but it’s uncertain whether they are all Samuel’s wives in the back. The young girl is attending a mission school as she has a school badge with a cross sign. The women are all dressed in European dresses, and all wear headscarf’s (Kitamba). The traditional bead necklaces (tik ng’ut) usually are of a mixture of colours and sizes. Something I altered in their headscarves (vitamba). They wear nothing on their feet by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard 1936

  • a Luo hut with baskets to one side, described as the ‘medicine hut of huts’ belonging to Chief Ezekiel Onyango of Kadimo in Yimbo Location. The building is in excellent construction and is a traditional Luo hut with a well-made thatch and strapped with strings to prevent the thatch being blown away by the wind by E.E Evans-Pritchard 1936.

  • A portrait of a youth standing in the yard of a colonial station in mountainous country by E.E Evans-Pritchard 1936.

  • Osaori of JoKato clothing mainly European by E.E Evans-Pritchard 1936.