Ovahimba Gaze: A Given Time
An Exhibition of Photographs by
Prints by Philippe Ciaparra
Présented at the
International festival of anthropological cinema
Opening: November 22, 2010
11:00 - Sala Lippi - Unicredit Banca, Perugia, Italy
From the first glance that the Ovahimba pose on the other, they imagine the essential quality of their interlocutor. At this key moment, they decide with whom they have to do. Generally, assigning a nickname does not take long to follow. Thus, shortly after my arrival in the country Ovahimba, they called me Kandavi, based on a figure from the world of fairy spirits that stirs in the stems of a tree. They spotted an active side in me; always busy photographing them, to retain precisely the tender and penetrating gaze they so well know how to show to others.
During my seven years of living with the family of the head of Etanga, a settlement located in northwestern Namibia, I was preoccupied by that endearing gaze, which showed a great presence of mind while remaining humble. I soon realized that the cattle farmers of this semi-arid savanna region were desert people. They need to picture who the other is when they do not belong to their extended family. In the past, such travelers were explorers, missionaries, traders, hunters and more recently development agents and tourists. Strangers did not always have only good intentions when arriving in these remote regions. The local inhabitants had little time to identify the disposition of such visitors. They came, uninvited, to discover, save, trade, kill, and later to instruct and finally just to look. Their tradition obliges the Ovahimba to restore the traveler and to refrain from asking him when he will leave. Such is the paradox that appears through this engaging expression in their eyes.
Over the seven years of living with the Ovahimba, two things never ceased to captivate my attention: this way of fixing their gaze on the other and a way of appearing and disappearing without anyone seeing them arrive or leave. The counterpart of that which escapes in the furtive movement returns in the static aspect of an immutable gaze, sometimes revealing a glimmer of interrogation or concealing a smile that suggests possible sympathy for hosts nobody invited, and who courageously and often clumsily begins to capture on film these moments of wordless exchanges. Those who are there to meet the eyes of travelers follow in the footsteps of ancestors who have seen passing over the centuries, smugglers of goods, know-how and gods, and they saw some.
In the selection of images presented here under the title "Ovahimba Gaze: A Given Time", I would like to share these instantaneous crossed glances with those I came into contact every day, with their parents and friends that I occasionally frequented or others I met only once, sometimes for only the time of the photograph. I chose images that above all convey the feeling of shared common humanity that I felt living and photographing members of my host family, their relatives and friends. They are images from life taken from one moment to another without affectation, simply capturing the moment when the other offers his gaze to me and thus allowing me to fix a part of him on film.
During my stay of seven years in Ovahimba, bonds were created, more strongly with some than with others; complicities grew, by affinity or interest, in accordance with human nature, which follows a path of least resistance. The images presented here tend to emphasize the complexity of human relations between contemporaries, as they are part of a smart mix of ambiguity modesty, frugality and abundance in perpetual becoming. I seek voluntarily to release pictures of strong and weak times of these singular moments that precede memory, when the image of restitution of bygone traditions becomes a reflection of contemporary human relationships.
Paris, November 2010
Born in South Africa, Rina Sherman was exiled from the country and settled in France in 1984 where she has been living and working since. A classical musician by training, she worked as independent theatre actress and as vision mixer for South African television (SABC), before turning to filmmaking. In 1990 she completed a doctorate with distinction at the Sorbonne, supervised by Jean Rouch. Her first novel, “Uitreis”, (Leaving) was published in South Africa in 1997 to critical acclaim. Her books, “Le huitième mort de Tibhirine” and “Ma vie avec les Ovahimba” were published respectively in 2007 and 2009. Rina Sherman has published numerous articles on her Ovahimba studies, and works as a curator and freelance arts and social sciences writer and researcher.
Writer, filmmaker and anthropologist, Rina has initiated several cultural projects. She was audiovisual director for the play South Africa: Music of Freedom in La Villette, 1995. That same year, she was awarded the prestigious French prize, Villa Médicis Hors les Murs, which allowed her to realise extensive research in the film archives of the Southern African region. In 1996, she organized Jean Rouch's tour of South African universities in collaboration of the French Institute in South Africa (IFAS) and the Mission for Cooperation and Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Namibia.
In 1997 Rina received a Lavoisier Research Bursary by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the project The Ovahimba Years, a multi-disciplinary long-term research program (drawings, oral tradition, video, film, photography) aimed at creating a living trace of Ovahimba cultural heritage. For a period of seven years, she filmed and photographed aspects of the daily and ritual lives of the Ovahimba.
In 2002, she presented a multimedia exhibition, Work in Progress, at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre in Windhoek. In 2003, she extended her research into the south west of Angola, and has hence covered the entire Otjiherero socio-linguistic cultural heritage landscape. She is currently writing and editing films about her years with the Ovahimba. The project received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, various EU Embassies, The Ford Foundation and numerous private sponsors.