Started in Kenya in 2009, “Indoors” is a photographic long term project depicting hardship, strength and joys of African women’s lives.
As camels are called “ships of the desert”, women in Kenya are called “Meli ya Ardhi”: ships of the world.
Metaphorically and physically then, they are perceived as beasts of burden.
Nevertheless, they perceive themselves as strong, capable and responsible human beings, turning what could be seen as degrading perceptions into an uplifting one.
The women I met have the extraordinary ability to overturn negatives into positives by embracing and making them their own.
They have the status of children, meant to be seen but not heard, and in some sectors of society they are not meant to be fully seen either.They use this oppression to their advantage as far as possible, for they have been taught since birth to hold strongly to their inner freedom, which cannot be taken away.
They are primed in the very same fires of the global oppression of women everywhere – whether this oppression is acknowledged or ignored, covert or overt, mild or extreme – they are, against all odds, made stronger and more responsible as a result.
They feel sympathetic to each other as women, which is why they allow ‘foreigners’ into their humble, sometimes ramshackle homes to observe their dignity, their humanity, hoping to create an authentic connection that will enable them to contribute to each others’ lives. This happens in often mysterious but always powerful ways.
They spend an inordinate number of hours fetching water and fire-wood, planting and harvesting food, building and maintaining their homes, serving their families and communities, and working to improve their capacity – just as their more privileged counterparts do; only the methods and degrees of comfort differ.
In spirit the struggle, the joys, the impacts and outcomes are essentially the same.
They nurture and educate their children, support their families, build their communities and protect their threatened heritage. How can they be seen as lesser? Why are they sometimes seen as lesser? They power from the bottom rungs of society up, just as women everywhere do.
The writer Germaine Greer, famously said that after living with Muslim women, she realised, they had freedoms that even herself, the quintessential liberated women, had never experienced.
By allowing herself to see beyond what was blatant in front of her eyes, she was able to perceive in the hidden, a whole world of freedom beneath the surface.
During my long desired journey to Kenya in 2009 I also allowed myself to see beyond the surface. It happened in a very spontaneous way and caused a decisive turn in my life and way of thinking.
Prior to departure I wasn’t sure about what I would find and how I would react to this new situation.
I was certainly putting myself outside my comfort zone and wasn’t sure about how would I, or people react to my presence in their own environment.
I have always considered photography as a sort of mirror between the photographer and the subject. Portraits show how people react and to what level they accept each other’s presence.
Being immersed into the local society allowed me to quickly become accepted and welcomed by the indigenous community.
Within this new environment I was especially captivated by the strength and dignity of women in a mainly male dominated society, where religion and culture often restrict them to have access to the labor market and to create relationships outside the household.
This new reality instilled in me a strong interest and inspired me to portray these women and bring their stories into light.
I got profoundly touched at how they manage to see perspective in even merciless circumstances, and I started my investigation project on African women.
These images have been taken either inside people’s houses or in the immediate surroundings.
Capturing intimate moments unveils a reality that would otherwise remain hidden in the intimacy of their households.
I aim to tell stories and celebrate the inner strength and beauty of these extraordinary human beings.
During these years of investigation, I realised that the perception of “difference” is actually just a concept, a barrier created in our minds. After all, in spite of vast physical distances and significant cultural differences, we are all fundamentally alike. Humanity inexplicably links us all together.
By sharing my work I aim to stimulate interest towards apparently unfamiliar situations which are too often perceived as intimidating but are, in fact, much more similar to our own culture than what we think.
Source: © Suhaila Abu Cross and Monia Antonioli