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Friday, July 19, 2024

The photographs of Lena:

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By Almami Fanding Taal

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything,” Aaron Siskind.

The creative industry of the Gambia is in ascendancy with a new generation of talented artists capable of filling the Independence Stadium to capacity-the largest open air exhibition venue in The Gambia. In addition, the Creative Industry has made good strides since the establishment of the National Centre for Arts and Culture NCAC and support it provides to the creative community by assisting to form them into different artistic associations to advocate for the interests of all genres of creative expressions which has led to a revival in the music scene reminiscent of the Gambia’s musical scene at the dawn of independence in the 1960s into 1970s.    

However, that nascent creative scene which showed such promise with eclectic bands such as the Super Eagles later Ifang Bondi believed to be the originator of the Afro-Manding Sound led by famed vocalists the late Paps Touray, living legends Oussou Njie (Senor) Vicky Blain, International Billboard Artist Abdel Kabirr (Laye Njum) and the Kora Award winning guitarist and composer Badou Jobe did not grow into a thriving creative industry in post-independence era. This short-lived glory may be attributable to the lack of institutional support both in the public and private sectors unlike in the neighbouring countries of Senegal, Mali and Guinea Conakry. 

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What was missing then and now is an ecosystem that can nurture talents and provide the requisite cultural infrastructure “hardware” like libraries cultural spaces museums and theatres and the funding for the arts. It is also necessary to give more focus on the “software” aspect of developing Gambia’s creative industry.

So, what has this got do with the Photographs of Lena Nian currently on display at the Alliance Française on Kairaba Avenue? Perhaps to start by suggesting the unity of purpose of the creative process then and now, which is elevating excellence in the arts in the hope of eliciting some official attention and recognition for the creative industry and the catalytic role of the creative temperament in birthing innovation, creating employment opportunities for all and wealth creation for our nation.

The exhibition has been on display since 24th February 2022 and will officially wrap up on the 16th of April 2022. So, there is still time to see to this wonderful collection.

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I first saw the pictures taken by Lena Nian-the Photographer at the Gaya Art Café before the age of selfies.

Now that cameras are so ubiquitous in the digital age one wonders what is left in photography to inspire the creative mind?

Lena’s subjects are the ordinary people in their everyday surroundings. This exhibition of her work titled ONE is focussed on unity, intimacy, domesticity and the images do poetic justice to our times when we are living in the receding shadow of the Covid 19 pandemic.

The blurb for the exhibition has a family snapshot of a mother and daughter, posing casually and not beaming at the camera, as family portraits intuitively come across as, the portrait has been enlarged, and perhaps treated, to foreground its signs of warmth and affection: surface emoting, acting, mock-ups. The scale lends an ordinary, unaffected portrait an even deeper charm, but the black and white print makes one’s thoughts turn inevitably to the time between then and now, and all that may have happened in between.

Lena’s ambitious images, which include abstracts-Holding Hands, always allow a lot of space for the viewer to enter in and form their own interpretations, while simultaneously holding something back. That something – embedded, complex, and elusive – is crucial in terms of the resonance these photographs possess.

More than ever, we need unity of purpose and fulfilling intimacy in our lives to help us come together and deal with the global challenges of climate change and the pandemics that will afflict the planet given the stresses the life support systems of the earth are under.

One observation I have is that the use of professional models and overt references to the culture through the fabrics seem very polished. Even though that does not in any way diminish the authenticity of the compositions for me. It may appear facile and staged. One suggestion I have: Take the camera out of the studio real life is fascinating enough and ought to be captured because it is so fleeting.

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