Tradition Among the Fulani People in Guinea Bissau Captured by Ami Vitale

The village is nestled in the eastern part of Guinea Bissau. The climate is hot and humid but by the end of the dry season, little water will be found above ground. The children take advantage of the rains to enjoy a day of swimming. Ami Vitale/Alexia Foundation

Ami Vitale received the Alexia Professional Grant in the year 2000 for the project “Tradition, Women’s Rights and Circumcision in Guinea Bissau, Africa.” She traveled to the African natin, one of the most impoverished in the world, to document the changes modern life was imposing on the traditionally nomadic Fulani people as they settled into villages, and became farmers. She captured stunning images of a pastoral life, with young boys playing amidst profound nature. But she also showed us the darker side of tradition, capturing the ceremony of female circumcision performed on a 5-year-old child.

I believe that we have a greater responsibility, an obligation, to also illuminate the things that unite us as human beings rather than simply emphasize our differences.

In 2011, Ami received a special grant from the Alexia Foundation to update her project which is presented alongside her original images on her project page. Her rich black and white images are contrasted with rich color images of life in the village. Her focus in this second series is specifically women. Girls and young women receiving an education are contrasted with the young women who are forced into arranged marriages.

We interviewed Ami recently on her work in Guinea Bissau. We asked her what the role of her images were – what she was trying to say as a journalist and a photographer.

“You might expect me to say that the world is full of tortuous places and as journalists, our role is to expose those dark corners of the world,” she responded. “Yes there is a role for that, without a doubt, ” she continued, “but I believe that we have a greater responsibility, an obligation, to also illuminate the things that unite us as human beings rather than simply emphasize our differences.”

This ethos is evident in the work that she produced with her two Alexia grants. She seeks out the humanity in the culture. Her images connect us to the Fulani people, instead of emphasizing otherness. Ami’s empathetic images give us understanding.

The Alexia Foundation supports our grantees to produce stories and images that drive change. See previous photos of the day here.

Works from Ami’s “Tradition, Women’s Rights and Circumcision in Guinea Bissau, Africa” will be on display as part of the upcoming “Eyes on the World” exhibition hosted by the Alexia Foundation at 25 CPW Gallery in New York. The exhibition opens tonight, June 20 and runs through June 23. Make plans to see this powerful work in person.

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