Pre- and Post-War Sudan Immortalized in Photography Book

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher's body of work illustrates a different type of Africa, one that isn't about the mainstream, safari-like viewpoint of the continent.

Since the 1970s, the U.S.-born Beckwith and Australian native Fisher have traveled to an interesting part of Africa to document the Dinka people. Beckwith refers to the largest ethnic group of southern Sudan as "gentle or ghostly giants," partially due to their extraordinary height of up to seven feet, six inches; dress that includes beaded bodices and corsets; and a gray ash concocted from cattle dung that covers their bodies in order to thwart lethal mosquitoes.

The Dinka are also known for their relationship to cattle. A tribesman, from youth to death, is brandished with cows, which are then watched over with über-attention. Oft-times, the Dinka will recite poetry to their animals.

Beckwith and Fisher first started photographing the Dinka cattle people in the 1970s, and their shoots continued through the 1980s before civil war banned outside access to the country. The photography series was a bit in limbo until late 2005 when the borders were reopened. The artists returned immediately to finish what they started 30 years previous.

The result is DINKA: Legendary Cattle Keepers of the Sudan, an art book that Beckwith and Fisher will present Wednesday night at the Menil Collection.

The two recently sold out Seattle's 2,500-seat Benaroya Hall for three consecutive nights during a National Geographic Live-sponsored lecture series.

"It's the largest [cumulative] audience we've ever spoken to," says Beckwith, who adds that the Lost Boys of Sudan have showed face in several cities to support the tour. "They feel that the book is such an important and beautiful illustration of the culture that they, in some ways, lost in the war."

Sudan is just one of the 44 African countries that the pair has photographically recorded. Once they document yet-to-visit places such as a kingdom in the Congo, which they've finally been granted access after a decade-long effort, they'll publish another book called African Twilight.

Before Beckwith and Fisher jaunt down to the Motherland, they'll showcase slides from and lecture about DINKA at the Menil, 1515 Sul Ross, at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Admission is free; a Q&A with the artists will follow the presentation. Check out Menil's digital presence for more information.

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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen