Douglas Curran and Nyau

Douglas Curran, Ndapita ku Maliro (Nkhuku Mutsekele)
I’m going to the Funeral, Lock up the Chicken

(scanned from invitation)

Another very interesting and very worthwhile exhibition we went to see on Sunday afternoon (yesterday) after the visit to the Burnaby Art Gallery, was at Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver. It is the largest non-profit photographic gallery in Western Canada, widely recognized for its exhibitions of photography and media art, emphasizing contemporary Canadian work within a context of historical and international art.

I’m not usually a huge fan of photography and film exhibitions, but my personal interest in anthropology and “primitive” cultures was piqued so I really wanted to see this one:

DOUGLAS CURRAN The Elephant Has Four Hearts: Nyau Masks and Ritual

Vancouver based photographer Douglas Curran first met members of the Chewa people while working on a film in Zimbabwe in 1992. The Chewa he met were migrant workers from Malawi employed on plantations and in mines. Over a period of several years he gradually became integrated into this community in Malawi, photographing and filming their extraordinary rituals associated with a belief system known as Nyau. The Chewa rituals and their masks are part of a complex and spectacular set of beliefs that Curran has been encouraged by the Chewa to document. Curran, no longer an outsider to this culture, has created a stunning pictorial record that invites dialogue about recording the lives of others, and forces comparisons with contemporary performance art. (from Gallery statement, curated by Bill Jeffries)

This stunning exhibition consists of 60 large colour photographs, about 10 masks and a video of village perfomances using the masks. To me, it felt like walking into the pages of National Geographic magazine or its films. They would be at home at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC as a vivid documentary of a threatened culture.

I suggest a browse through Douglas Curran’s excellent website to see some of the photos, read the catalogue and a review about the Nyau, plus his many other projects. Also read ‘Nyau Photos Challenge Cultural Appropriation’, a review by art critic Robin Laurence in the Straight.

The exhibition continues to February 27th, at Presentation House Gallery, 333 Chesterfield Avenue, North Vancouver, BC

February 21, 2005 in Anthropology, Art Exhibitions, Other artists, Photography by Marja-Leena