For 26 years, Bay Area-based photographer Elisabeth Sunday has found inspiration in the peoples, cultures and traditions of Africa. She has traveled alone and lived among various indigenous peoples documenting how they sustain their traditional ways of life in a rapidly changing world. Utilizing a flexible mirror of her own design, Sunday photographs her subjects’ reflections in a way that blends and dissolve the boundaries between the figures and their environment, expressing both intimacy and strength.
On display in this gallery are photographs from two of Sunday’s monumental series: The Tuareg Portfolio and the Anima Sequence. The Tuareg Portfolio portrays nomads who, for thousands of years, have ranged eastward across the great expanse of the Sahara Desert from eastern Mauritania through the southernmost reaches of Algeria, to the roiling dunes of northern Mali and Niger. They have long worn double-layer, flowing, indigo-colored wraps that fully encase the body and protect against sun, sand, heat, and wind. Their expression of grace is a kind of cultural memory of movement given to them through the ages of arranging and rearranging their wraps. Watching the extension of an arm or hand to perform a mundane task, the gestures from fingers, hands, wrists, and arms combining with the elegant, precise folds and wind-shaped twists in their clothing, is like observing a well-choreographed dance.
The Tuareg are proud of the desert and in love with their endless sea of dunes and overwhelming night skies perforated by myriad stars whose every name and seasonal position they know by heart. Sunday’s photographs connect them with the elements of their environment, striving to reveal their deep nature and understanding of the great wild places they were born to.
Inspired by Sunday’s experiences with the Efe, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes on earth, The Anima Sequence is a conceptual representation of animist beliefs encountered throughout her travels. The Efe live in the heart of deep Africa, just below the equator. Their Eden is the fabled Ituri Rain Forest located in the Congo Basin about two thousand miles from either coast and nearly a thousand miles from any major city. The Efe introduced Sunday to their animism during her first stay with them in the late 1980s and she was fascinated by what she learned: that nature could be viewed not only as alive but as an integrated bio-system connecting everything that breathed to everything else in the environment. The Efe did not think of themselves as separate or apart from nature; they were nature, along with the trees, creatures, winds, rain, and soil. To them, the forest is comprised of everything within it, including the people that live there.