Mzungu welcomes us to take the artist’s journey through Africa as we set our eyes upon the motorcycle and across to a framed map of his route from Cape Town to Djibouti. The map is annotated by combinations of thick black marker, biro and pencil, scrawled across the page with his notes – mainly locations and the contact numbers of people he had met along the way. Ghammachi has equipped us with a bike and a map, now we must take his journey.
When stepping forward to the first photograph, Ghammachi immediately demonstrates his infamous ability to make us feel as though we are physically entering into the scene that is displayed before us. Here, we are taken from our surroundings of the La Gallerie Nationale and thrown into a lobby of an abandoned hotel in Xai-Xai, Mozambique. This is accomplished through a combination of photography techniques and artistic eye, from Ghammachi’s choice of C-type metallic printing paper, which creates inimitable depth and dimension, to capturing geometric lines which encourage the viewers eye further into a photograph.
In a following photograph we find ourselves at the canteen of the abandoned hotel, where our eye is drawn to leftover food from the security staff that remain looking after the Xai-Xai beach hotel. Here, Ghammachi illustrates the contrasts of the abandoned and lost against notions of the living. This motif of the contrasts between the abandoned and the living is repeated in further works, one of which presents the beautiful ruins of a forgotten building on the hills of Kipilli in Tanzania. An epidemic of leprosy broke out around 1940, which resulted in the building burning down and everyone abandoning the village. The building, like the abandoned hotel, also resonates the sense of what used to be and what is lost, whilst illuminating the subtle colour of greenery from the living weeds that cover the floors and columns of the remains.
Whilst Ghammachi often invites us into his photographs, he also has the ability to snap us back out of them. As our eyes follow each picture, we suddenly come face to face with a different scene – an unwelcoming woman sat behind a caged bottle shop. The cage creates a barrier between us, separating the observer from the photograph. We do not feel the same invitation to step into this image, but to remain outside.
As we study further works in Mzungu, we meet portraits of beautifully honest and smiling faces amongst poverty and hardship. An tired-looking elderly woman is sat on the step of a rundown grocery store with dirty bare feet, whilst, somewhat ironically, sat next to a Surf washing detergent advertisement. She stares back into Ghammachi’s lens with a sense of tranquility and beauty.
Ghammachi takes us on a tour across Africa, and transforms us into the ‘aimless wanderer’ as we look upon his experiences through his inviting lens. Ghammachi shines light on the richness of the landscapes, agriculture and people. He demonstrates that in unassuming conditions, Africa is a land of humble beauty and warmth. There is no denying that Ghammachi’s La Gallerie Nationale exhibition is for the voyager, as we walk amongst his experience and we too become the ‘Mzungu’.
The exhibition is free at La Gallerie Nationale until July 31.
Mzungu, The Aimless Wanderer at La Galerie Nationale
When: May 25 – Jul 31