Primal Terra by Faith Ariho

Primal Terra by Faith Ariho

Written by Bwojji Elijah

Photography is a different kind of storytelling.  Each photo contains a single story when it’s an exhibition, the single stories from each photo get together to tell one greater story. The story Faith Ariho told during the 15 photo exhibition curated by Trevor Mukholi (Arts and Textile associate at MoTIV Uganda) was a snapshot of what many other photographers before her have laboured to tell, and what many more after her will try to tell. It’s a story of people and the wilderness around them, a story of a Uganda beside its concrete. 

There is beauty to the photos, the technique is on point, the eye, she knows how to tell the stories, and how to frame them. My review is a walk down into the kind of stories I picked up from some of the photos on display.

As you enter the studio after climbing stairs of four floors to those who are unlucky- the lift of the building works perfectly well- your eyes fall at the first photo, Mountain Rwenzori. The mountain rests in the top left corner and with a road leading your thoughts past its foot to the right corner of the frame, with a man pushing his bicycle carrying jerrycans, his woman happy. And that’s what the photo does to me, the sense of a hardworking family man, before him a looming mountain of responsibilities, comfort is taken in the woman’s smile.

On your left, two portraits, a sunset giving off a final fury while the waters of the lake play ping-pong, a frozen motion of a lake with winds on it and Kalangala Island in the far background, and an orange sun fighting for its life yet death comes for it. 

As your eyes slide farther to the right, and still sunflowers meet your eyes. Your eyes fill the frame of all sunflowers, dots of the sun in a myriad of greens.

If you are right-handed, on your right heel you will turn, eyes going past the door until they meet a lake holding the sky in its depth. Lake Mutanda in Kisoro, a little bit unknown, yet Faith captured it on its lazy days as it played with the heavens as if its aeons back and God is holding the court of his creation. Printed on a canvas, it’s a photo that is bright enough to put lights into your place if you are to own it. 

At your left, there the most lonesome tree stands, caught in warm light the crown of a tree runs off the frame. It is old, the tree flanks the scars of time yet it shares not the stories of its survival. It stands at the backdrop of savanna grassland. The story goes, in every game park in the savanna land, stands such a tree, alone as if defying creation.

Into the main part of the studio, your eyes will fall onto the centrepiece, but on your right are nine portraits, each holding a story of its own. The one that stood out is of two men in a boat on the Nile, with the old bridge in the background. It’s a black and white photo, carrying a story of an everyday Ugandan hustling.

The centrepiece, a leopard looming, as if it wants to pounce out of the canvas. It’s the eyes that are haunting, captivating, they are not searching, they are all-knowing,  they know what they have seen. 

The head of the leopard fills the lower right third of the frame, and the magic happens as your eyes linger on the spots of the leopard. A continual feeling of endless spots grabs you, focusing your eye to follow it out of the frame you go.

You get to see why it’s the centre, it’s wild, it’s humbling, it’s Uganda at 50 years.

The exhibition was a reminder of how we have fewer photo exhibitions in a country full of visual stories to tell. Check out Faith’s journey into storytelling via her Instagram.

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