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Photography Exhibit at the Annual Meeting: Families from Burkina Faso by Beryl Goldberg

Exhibit of Photos by Beryl Goldberg, Taken over a 40 year period

My series of photos is of three families in Burkina Faso over several generations. We see the family members in the course of their daily lives supporting each other, working hard, studying, celebrating and enjoying being together.Families such as these provide the basis for construction, reconstruction, reconciliation in the world (the conference theme). 

Spanning more than four decades, the photographs of the three families celebrate a remarkable vision of modern Africa: both positive and upbeat.  Beryl Goldberg first traveled as a photographer to Africa in 1972 and then returned a number of times in the 70’s.  

She lived with one family and spent time with the others. When she finally was able to return on assignment in 1998 she was eventually able to find the three families and then met the family members of the next generations. Returning again on assignment in 2001 and 2004 she always made sure to visit the families.  Over the years since she has kept in contact by email and telephone.

Ms. Goldberg’s photographs portray the reality of the lives of these families and present universals and also particulars of their culture.

The adults photographed in the 70’s were market people who had migrated from rural villages. They were connected to their villages but very settled in the city. They were active in the thriving market economies-having long standing relationships with their fellow market people.

We know a lot about Africa but too much of that is negative-drought, civil war and corruption.  When Ms. Goldberg returned and was able to find the families, (not always easily), the reality of their lives presented a very different narrative. Today’s generation are sophisticated dwellers in the wired urban environment.  Many of the children are well educated and live more comfortably than their parents did.  A number of the children-now adults- of the next generation have achieved some degree of prominence in their fields.   One has a Ph.d  from the University of Bordeaux in France and heads a major health program in the country.  Another is a successful journalist, businessman and community leader.  One daughter works in the fashion industry in Milan, Italy. Another of the granddaughters has BA and MA degree from American universities. Another is a student in Lille, France.

In the photos are many themes of  Burkinabe reality with similarities to other countries of West Africa.  We see the dynamism of these societies.  We understand the mobility and migration that have become common in the region-movement from the villages to the cities to overseas in the search for economic improvement and education. Gender relationships are apparent-mothers and grandmothers caring for their children, cooking and working.  Their religious traditions are seen as the women read prayer books in Arabic.  Over time some of the women began wearing clothing more consistent with traditional Moslem principles.

Professor Ousseina Alidou, Director of the Rugers University Center for African Studies described the exhibit which she had presented March 2013 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick .    “Beryl Goldberg’s camera offers a dignified transgenerational portrait of three families.  Her work is an important counter-narrative to the negative stereotypes and media imaging of Africa and its people.  It is a marvelous depiction of the dignity of common folk.”

The exhibit was also on display at Lehman College, CUNY, the Bronx in March , April of 2014.  Professor Bertrade Ngo-Ngijol-Banoum professor of Women’s Studies wrote the following introduction:  “Ms. Beryl Goldberg captures three generations of three Burkinabe families through three continents Africa, America and Europe.  At the heart of it all evolve impressively hardworking women at home and in the marketplace.  So it happens at this Burkinabe marketplace that the American spirit of adventure and curiosity embodied in a young female photographer meets African generosity and hospitality.  This great story of globalization, not of profits, but of people, is an inspiration for the gift of Burkina Faso portraits.  The exhibit turned a spotlight on woman, resourceful mothers who invest their hard earned income in their children’s education granting them upward mobility and possibility.  What a timely case study for my students who were just halfway into their course entitled “Woman in African Society.  They loved it.” 

The Families from Burkina Faso photo exhibit will be on display during the 57th Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. Photos will be displayed in common areas of the conference venue, and prints will be available for purchase in the exhibit hall.

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African Studies Association is a participating member of Aid for Africa, a unique partnership of nonprofit organizations serving families and communities throughout Africa.
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