I recently returned from Ethiopia where I visited one of the most remote places on earth: THE OMO VALLEY. Only three degrees from the equator it was hot, dry, barren and well… inhospitable. Despite all this there are people living there much as they have for centuries.
I was introduced to the tribes of the Omo Valley through a documentary film by Joey Lawrence, a Canadian photographer living in New York. What I saw here created an excitement I hadn’t felt in a while, I was hooked. Before I new it I had booked a flight to Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia.
A little history: From the early days I was always interested in how people survived, made a way for themselves and their families. Specifically I wondered how they did it under the most dire of circumstances, be it from urban poverty or rural isolation. How do they survive? This fascinated me, but what was even more intriguing were those that lived this way by choice. Such is the way of the people of Omo Valley.
And so I was off, but unfortunately Margie couldn’t join me on this one so I was going solo. My plan was to get in, work and get out. No time for sightseeing, this was going to be all business. My focus was to capture as best I could the tribes people and their culture in order to construct a new series of work. This would be the first time I traveled specifically to gather material for work. I was excited.
I was greeted at the airport by my guide, Daniel Damtew of Glory Ethiopia Travel. http://www.gloryethiopia.com/ Although I was two hours clearing customs and waiting to obtain my travel visa, Daniel was still there at the gate waiting for me. I was relieved, because you never know when arriving in a strange country what you will encounter there. After all, I made all my arrangements over the internet including money transfers and it was always possible that things could have gone terribly wrong. However, right from the beginning
Daniel inserted confidence in me that I had made a good choice.
After taking me to my hotel for the evening Daniel and his team picked me up bright and early the next morning. Daniel, a driver and cook, and myself jumped into the Land Rover and headed south towards Omo, some 800 kms from Addis. The road started off OK but it wasn’t long before things got bumpy and I don’t just mean a few potholes, I mean serious off-roading. The highway was under construction and we were forced to go off-road every few kilometers where we encountered many goats and cattle along the road. Not a cow here and there but rather herds of cattle, often a hundred strong or more blocking our path. This continued for basically the entire trip and after a while you just got used to it.
Without getting into too much detail the trip basically consisted of early breakfast, departure around 8:30am, travel for several hours, arrive in village, work, find lodging, sleep.
Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, many kilometers from the nearest settlement, there are small villages consisting of little more than a few grass-roofed huts. These are home to the Mursi, Karo, Hammer, Borena and Erbore tribes among others. They all have distinctive cultures with traditions unique to each tribe but perhaps the one aspect that is similar to all tribes is the ever presence of Kalashnikov’s. The men carry them everywhere fearful of attack from neighboring factions as there always seems to be ongoing disputes among the tribes.
Lip plates of the Mursi women to body painting of the Karo and scarifications of the Hammer, these people are unique in todays ever-changing world. Mostly untouched by western society save for the odd tourist or photographer they continue to be ambivalent to advancement, content to live a simple life. In many ways I am struck with envy. Perhaps this is why I strive to tell their story.
Currently I am working on a new body of work describing what I saw there on this mind bending adventure that has transformed me both as an artist but also as a person. The new paintings are fresh, exciting and I believe worth a visit. Stay tuned for the dates of my upcoming solo exhibition at Artspace Gallery in Oakville this summer.