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New book seals a prolific partnership

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Photo/Elvis Ogina  Heritage photographer Carol Bedwith (left), ceramist Magdalene Odundo and Angela Fisher during the 40th Anniversary of African Heritage at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi last week.

Photo/Elvis Ogina Heritage photographer Carol Bedwith (left), ceramist Magdalene Odundo and Angela Fisher during the 40th Anniversary of African Heritage at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi last week.  
By MARGARETTA WA GACHERU  (email the author)

Posted  Thursday, April 26  2012 at  19:06

The launch of their 15th jointly-authored book on the Dinka, at Alliance Francaise, Nairobi, sealed more than 30 years of collaboration between two of the gutsiest globe-trotting women in the world.
Angela Fisher, an Australian jewellery maker, and Carol Beckwith, an American painter, were introduced to each other by African Heritage co-director Alan Donovan in the late 1970s.
They felt an instant affinity, but it took several years before they started working together.
They were each working on their own books when they met: Angela on Africa Adorned (1984) and Carol on Maasai (1980).
It took an invitation from the Ethiopian government, to document cultural ceremonies across that country, for them to join forces.
Kindred Spirit
“We knew we were kindred spirits and we both loved working in Africa, but it was that invitation that persuaded Angela to come work with me,” said Carol.
Her friend, the renowned palaeontologist Dr. Donald Johanson, served as the go-between for the women and the Ethiopian government.
From the project The African Arc (1990), was published and it grew into a broader pictorial study of the Horn of Africa.
They realised they were such a good team together and have proceeded to do more books and sign all their photographs jointly.
They even live in the same flat block in London with Carole on the ground floor and Angela staying two floors above. Their studio and archive, which they share, sits between them.
Film maker
“It’s our home base, although we don’t spend much time there,” Angela says.
The two are too busy crisscrossing Africa documenting indigenous cultures in some of the most remote corners of the region.
“We record everything we can that’s traditional, from ceremonies that mark stages of life, to seasonal beliefs and ceremonies appealing to the ancestral spirits.”
“But the work we do doesn’t get easier over time, since it’s increasingly difficult to find cultures unscathed by globalisation,” Carol said.

They recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they spent time working, with independent filmmaker Kire Godal, inside the Kingdom of Kuba, where the indigenous culture is still intact.
They were accompanied by the Kuba Royal Prince Kwete Kwete, who was regaled in every village they visited with ceremonial dances performed especially for members of the royal family.
The photos taken during their Kuba trip will be included in the volume of African Ceremonies entitled African Twilight to be published in 2014. It is part of a four volume compilation.
They are currently also working on archiving the nearly half a million negatives they have shot across Africa since they started working together.
“We probably have the most comprehensive collection of images on indigenous African cultures in the world,” Angela says. “And we want to ensure it finds the best home so it will be accessible to all African researchers.”
Their other book project is Body Painting Across Africa which is scheduled to come out next year.
The book is essentially the culmination of their travelling across African countries to document all that is beautiful in indigenous cultures. Body Painting records one of the world’s most ancient art forms.
Sitting with them at Donovan’s African Heritage House on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, just hours before their flight back to the UK, the women’s mutual appreciation is obvious.
“Angela’s special talent is her ability to melt icebergs,” said Carol, speaking of her best friend and business partner.
“She has an [ineffable] talent for turning ‘no’s into eager affirmations from otherwise difficult characters.”
“Carol’s gift is her ability to transform disappointments [like having to wait for a special ceremony for weeks rather than days] into adventures and opportunities for further research into the culture and community we are recording at the time,” said Angela who shares Carol’s limitless enthusiasm for learning about traditional African cultures.
“We both see Africa as a continent rich in artistry, beauty and decoration,” Angela said. The ladies were in Kenya to launch their latest photographic tome, Dinka, as well as join their friend Alan celebrate the 40th anniversary of African Heritage.
They also received a Life Achievement Award for their exceptional documentation of disappearing indigenous cultures and for being one of the most prolific photographic partnerships ever seen.
The other way they say they complement one another is:

Carol’s ability to do life cycles, life passages and ceremonies from birth to death, to dig into one culture and learn about its ins and outs, said Angela.
Angela’s talent has taken the broader, more pan African approach.

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