Friday Finds: The Hyena & Other Men

I recently came across this post on sub-studio design blog. Pieter Hugo has created a wonderful series of photographs of a group of animal handlers in Nigeria, who somehow have domesticated a couple Hyenas, as well as monkeys. What fascinates me is how beastly the Hyena seems and how one would ever manage to domesticate such a wild creature.

Here is Pieter Hugo's artist statement as well:

These photographs came about after a friend emailed me an image taken on a cellphone through a car window in Lagos, Nigeria, which depicted a group of men walking down the street with a hyena in chains. A few days later I saw the image reproduced in a South African newspaper with the caption 'The Streets of Lagos'. Nigerian newspapers reported that these men were bank robbers, bodyguards, drug dealers, debt collectors. Myths surrounded them. The image captivated me.

Through a journalist friend I eventually tracked down a Nigerian reporter, Adetokunbo Abiola, who said that he knew the 'Gadawan Kura' as they are known in Hausa (a rough translation: 'hyena handlers/guides').

A few weeks later I was on a plane to Lagos. Abiola met me at the airport and together we took a bus to Benin City where the 'hyena men' had agreed to meet us. However, when we got there they had already departed for Abuja.

In Abuja we found them living on the periphery of the city in a shantytown - a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys and a few rock pythons. It turned out that they were a group of itinerant minstrels, performers who used the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. The animal handlers were all related to each other and were practising a tradition passed down from generation to generation. I spent eight days travelling with them.

The spectacle caused by this group walking down busy market streets was overwhelming. I tried photographing this but failed, perhaps because I wasn't interested in their performances. I realised that what I found fascinating was the hybridisation of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers have with their animals - sometimes doting and affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel. I started looking for situations where these contrasting elements became apparent. I decided to concentrate on portraits. I would go for a walk with one of the performers, often just in the city streets, and, if opportunity presented itself, take a photograph. We travelled around from city to city, often chartering public mini-buses.

I agreed to travel with the animal wranglers to Kanu in the northern part of the country. One of them set out to negotiate a fare with a taxi driver; everyone else, including myself and the hyenas, monkeys and rock pythons, hid in the bushes. When their companion signalled that he had agreed on a fare, the motley troupe of humans and animals leapt out from behind the bushes and jumped into the vehicle. The taxi driver was completely horrified. I sat upfront with a monkey and the driver. He drove like an absolute maniac. At one stage the monkey was terrified by his driving. It grabbed hold of my leg and stared into my eyes. I could see its fear.

Two years later I decided to go back to Nigeria. The project felt unresolved and I was ready to engage with the group again. I look back at the notebooks I had kept while with them. The words 'dominance', 'codependence' and 'submission' kept appearing. These pictures depict much more than an exotic group of travelling performers in West Africa. The motifs that linger are the fraught relationships we have with ourselves, with animals and with nature.

The second trip was very different. By this stage there was a stronger personal relationship between myself and the group. We had remained in contact and they were keen to be photographed again. The images from this journey are less formal and more intimate.

The first series of pictures had caused varying reactions from people - inquisitiveness, disbelief and repulsion. People were fascinated by them, just as I had been by that first cellphone photograph. A director of a large security company in the USA contacted me, asking how to get in touch with the 'hyena group'. He saw marketing potential: surely these men must use some type of herb to protect themselves against hyenas, baboons, dogs and snakes? He thought that security guards, soldiers and his own pocket could benefit from this medicine.

Many animal-rights groups also contacted me, wanting to intervene (however, the keepers have permits from the Nigerian government). When I asked Nigerians, "How do you feel about the way they treat animals", the question confused people. Their responses always involved issues of economic survival. Seldom did anyone express strong concern for the well-being of the creatures. Europeans invariably only ask about the welfare of the animals but this question misses the point. Instead, perhaps, we could ask why these performers need to catch wild animals to make a living. Or why they are economically marginalised. Or why Nigeria, the world's sixth largest exporter of oil, is in such a state of disarray.

image via Pieter Hugo Photography

The Fancy Ring

For months I've been thinking about making this ring...finally, I did it. I call it The Fancy Ring, because well, it's just about the fanciest ring I've made to date. Sterling Silver with a beautiful Gold setting and rich Smoky Quartz. Available guessed it...the Etsy Shop!

Arthur Hash & The Art Escape Plan

Arthur Hash is a well respected artist, designer, and metalsmith. I have just recently done a little trade with him and cannot wait to see what he makes with the materials I sent him. Arthur just posted a great blog today, kind of in response to the latest on Conceptual Metalsmithing. He brings about a lot of good points about the past being necessary, and that we should basically stop biting the hands that feed us. Head over to his blog, The Art Escape Plan, to have a look!

Friday Finds: Sabrina Meyns

I found today's artist via Amy Tavern's blog...she always features wonderful artists every week! Sabrina Meyns is an emerging designer who uses a range of materials, and I really like the paper pieces, with their fragile qualities. I've always wanted to explore with paper and papier mache, but haven't taken the time yet. Go ahead and have a browse through Sabrina's portfolio!

On Forgiveness: Forgiving Yourself

My mom sent me an email a while ago, with an article on forgiveness from a website called Abundance and Happiness. I have only started reading it today, as once again, I am dealing with the task of forgiving myself. One of the quotes talks about when someone makes the choice to hold onto resentment or "un-forgiveness" against another, which instead of hurting the person they are holding that resentment against, they are hurting themselves. The article also speaks of the negative emotional and physical side effects of holding such resentments against yourself or others.

Say you have hurt a friend...badly enough for you to both walk away from the friendship. But, your actions were with good intentions of helping said friend. Despite all the good intentions, and forgiveness from said friend, I am left with a sense of horrible wrongdoing, regret, and guilt. I now face the task of keeping a balanced perspective on the events that happened, reasons for walking away, and most importantly, forgiving myself. It is a hard task--sometimes much harder than forgiving someone else. But, I am cleansing my body both physically and emotionally, and I no longer want any negative energy in or around me.

How does one forgive themselves? Every person is different. I have learned a lot of different spiritual techniques in the past 10 years, and will probably concentrate on a lot of positive self-affirmations, writing un-sent letters, and reiki.

Friday Finds: Anya Kivarkis

Yesterday, Dave and I travelled to Eugene to have a tour of the metals studio at University of Oregon. It's one of the options I'm looking at to transfer to and complete a BFA in the U.S., so that some day I may be able to get my Master's (My BVA from University of South Australia is not equivalent).

One of the artists discovered, who I believe is also the head of Metals, is Anya Kivarkis. She is an amazing artist, who uses her medium to challenge historical ornamentation through mutation and alteration. Seeing her pieces, and some of her techniques, opened up a whole new realm of thought for me with regard to using my hydraulic press and creating hollow forms. My style is not nearly as ornamental as hers, however.

Her work can be seen on her website, the Sienna Gallery site, and Lamar Dodd School of Art site.

images via Sienna Gallery

Michele Maule

I knew there was a reason I liked Michele Maule's illustrations...she's originally from Portland, Oregon! She currently resides near Detroit, Michigan, and has made making art her full time job, which is fantastic. Her illustrations are gorgeous--I love the simplicity and color combinations. These are a few of my favorites. You can find more of Michele Maule's work at her website, Etsy shop, and on her blog. Enjoy!

Friday Finds--Mel Robson

I recently fell in love with Mel Robson's work through a post on Design*Sponge, where they are doing a virtual design tour of Australia. She is an amazing ceramic artist who has a self-proclaimed obsession with roadmaps, recipes, sewing and handwriting. Her work entails a lot of research and I love the exhibitions she's been in. Check out her blog for frequent happenings and her website as well (under construction).

On Forgiveness: Forgiving Abuse

Yes, I am still working on my project on forgiveness. Much of it is still in my head (I know I know, I need to be writing and drawing it out). I did end up doing a bubble map the other day, which helped me visualize some actual objects and possibilities.

I have decided to create "wall lockets" for each person--there will also be quite a few relating to forgiving myself--with some sort of etching on the outside, and objects inside relating to the situation. Much like drawing dreams, it is hard to visualize some of these and create something physical from something emotional. But, I am up to the challenge.

One thing I have wrestled with in this process of forgiveness is forgiveness relating to abuse. There are a few specific situations in my past which this relates to. One of the first big issues I run into with this part of forgiveness is, once again, the definition. It is one thing when you yourself have changed your personal definition, and are comfortable with it. It is a completely different thing if you tell the person you are forgiving, that you forgive them, and they still have that notion that forgiveness means that what happened was okay.

As I've stated in the past, forgiveness in my eyes does not include forgetting. How can you forget your past? It also does not mean that what happened was okay, but rather that one is acknowledging that what happened happened, it is in the past, and they are letting it go and allowing themselves to move forward with their live without that burden.

Without going into too much detail, there are 4 instances of abuse that I am directly dealing with in this project. In one instance, I have come to the conclusion through many many years of reflection, that this person was incapable of behaving any other way towards me because they didn't know any better. That doesn't mean that what happened was okay, but it helps me understand their actions and makes it easier to distance myself enough to let it go. In another instance, the abuse was horrific enough that the situation will stay with me forever, whether I want it to or not. There are some people that just do not deserve forgiveness and I would never use the term to describe my process of letting go, even if just because I wouldn't want them to think that what they did was okay, or that they got away with it. In a situation like that, I make peace internally, and let it go, but would never let them know that. That may sound contradictory, but I hope it makes sense.

Even now, there are instances that will take years to process still, before any form of letting go is possible.

I have, in the past, gone to counselors for help with various matters of moving forward, letting go, and forgiveness. I strongly urge anyone who feels like they have hit a wall and need a little help, to find a counselor to aid them. It does a world of good, even if it's just for one session, to have an objective perspective on matters.