Nomadic Black Beauty

Ways of the Nomads

Photographs of the Sahel by Charlene Pigeon. At the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara, through July 31.

Reviewed by India Allen

Living in Santa Barbara, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that black is beautiful. Right now, Charlene Pigeon’s Ways of the Nomads, photographs from the Sahel, is that welcome reminder. Showing at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara, Pigeon’s photography of Wodaabe and Tuareg nomads places the inaccessible within arm’s reach and the brings the remote into the viewer’s realm of consciousness. No longer are the nomads exclusively a feature of National Geographic. Pigeon’s photos not only display her flair for capturing an elusive savanna-dwelling people; they also exhibit her photographic skill and technique, presenting color and texture as it’s seen and used in the traditional nomadic culture.

Africa’s vibrant and exotically colorful reputation appears well-deserved in this exhibit. In “Festival in the Bush,” color is clearly a life source to the Wodaabe people. The image pictures eight Wodaabe men with earthy-red painted faces, in full ceremonial dress, and giving individualized expressions of celebration and joy. Pigeon unveils a rare moment, offering the viewer the privilege of witnessing a sacred event.

“Wodaabe Shepherd,” another of the 15 photos on display, exemplifies Pigeon’s ability to show texture and the importance of contrast. It pictures a young Tuareg boy with a cream turban wrap. The contrast between the boy’s flawless dark chocolate skin and the tan turban centers the boy’s face, making his gaze the focus of attention. Consequently, it is here that the viewer experiences a rare phenomenon: the co-existence of innocence and wisdom. The boy’s gaze expresses his innocence of the unknown customs of the West, and the wisdom he inherits in a land Westerners must travel from afar to behold.

Of all these photos, “Desert Landscape” best exemplifies the meaning of the entire exhibit. It captures the nomadic environment. With hills of orange-brown sand, it is clear that the beauty and exotic nature of the nomadic people is reflected in the land. It is here that the viewer truly understands the meaning of the nomadic. Amazing and visually very stimulating, Ways of the Nomads personalizes and unveils the lifestyles and environment of the Wodaabe and Tuareg peoples.

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