Natural Fashion

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Friday, January 13, 2012
These photos are pictures I took of the book Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa by Hans Silvester.

internet picture of the book cover.

I first saw it while processing holds at work - the photos were so visually striking they took my breath away. I'd never seen plant material used quite in this way, either - I had to put a hold on it for myself immediately. This was over a year ago (clearly, I have a procrastination problem).

The book is made from photos of the Surma and Mursi people of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. It's a fragile moment in time for this region - the old traditions continue (it's one of the few areas of Africa that was never colonized by the Europeans), but the Omo river is slated to be dammed in 2013 and the valley (in southern Ethiopia) is rife with guerilla warfare and in the path of arms traders from Somalia and Sudan.  And then there's this... (from National Geographic Magazine) 

Today the Omo Valley is a destination for wealthy tourists who cross vast, uncomfortable distances to witness those same rituals—vanloads of white faces, most from Europe, hoping for something of the Africa that exists in the Western imagination, all wild animals and face paint and dancing. Tourists say they have come to see the Omo before it becomes like everywhere else, as though a McDonald's might suddenly descend from the sky.
Does posting these pictures of pictures perpetuate the problem?  This has been in the back of my mind. In the end, I believe this to be a representation of astonishingly beautiful artistic expression and a celebration of the people who made it, so here they are: 

natural fashion

I LOVE the bright yellow of the squash blossom diadem, the white dots above the nose, the reverse below, the red bead in her earlobe - so many individual touches.

natural fashion

There's much to love about this, but I think my two favorite parts are the yellow fruit and the straw colored necklace.

natural fashion
These decorations are so ephemeral which makes me love them even more.  I also like that they are crafted by both men and women.

natural fashion

Love the two dots above the lip, the yellow, the smile.

natural fashion

Zinnias are one of my favorites, so of course I love this - but the dots (so many dots!) and those sweet chubby toddler cheeks take it to a whole new level.

natural fashion
Everything. Love her.

natural fashion
I love everything* about this, but especially the yellow/ white circles face paint and the sprays of blossoms that correspond to the painted stars on the body.

*I know these declarations of love are becoming redundant but I can't help it.

natural fashion

The paint! The  I love the bits on her shoulders and on his chest and arms. Once again, I just love everything about it. (the four colors of necklaces he's wearing, the flowers on her head look like some kind of clover, the different ways their faces are painted. Everything.)

natural fashion
I can't even - everything, everything.

natural fashion
best parts: the smile! The purple flowers, the necklaces.

natural fashion
So beautiful -  I just now noticed the star/flower pattern up her cheek and onto her forehead.

natural fashion
You know, I was going to say I liked the purple flower bangs the best, but it might just be the ochre circles on her forehead.

natural fashion
Yellow flower crowns (it looks kind of like my chain of gold tree, although I know it isn't) and those yellow necklaces. I love the photos with more than one person in them - it's posed like all of these are posed, but they're posing together.

natural fashion
It's pretty clear that I love dots in all their forms, but my favorite thing about this picture is his hand on her shoulder. Second favorite thing is the leaf hats - almost a cloche on her, and a beret on him.

It looks like the hardcover edition of this book is out of print, but there is a paperback edition still available.

2 comments on "Natural Fashion"
  1. AW, love those. Strange that we think we are civilized--yet not nearly as creative. (Except maybe Lady Gaga. :)

  2. Agreed! Although one of the things I love about this is that it seems a little more available than Gaga's meat-dress etc. ensembles.


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