18th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest Travel
surma arc

This image was made as part of a series described below. ARTifice Traces; Suri in Present is a photography series bringing together four years of research into the Suri Tribe. The series focuses on the bodies and visual practices of the Suri, in which patterns and designs are painted and stamped onto their skins using clay, minerals and indigenous plants. Embodying the meeting between the photographer and her subject, the series gives space to traditional, performative and transactional forms, with qualitative and quantitative frameworks determining the conditions of how the work is made. With performativity present throughout the work, details such as the intricacy of the painted designs, or the number of times the photographer depresses the shutter release, directly correlate with the compensation negotiated by the subject. In doing so, ARTifice Traces; Suri in Present becomes a field of both aesthetic and monetary exchange, creating tangible currencies that challenge power dynamics and subvert assumed hierarchies and roles. Further details, such as the photographer’s use of black backdrops, or the subjects’ deliberate appropriation of western symbols, distance the series from essentialist photo-ethnography, investigating notions of authenticity and performance in its stead and encouraging each subject’s aesthetic prowess and power, reframing their transient masterpieces as autonomous works.

Photo Detail
Date Taken: 03.2018
Date Uploaded: 11.2020
Photo Location: West Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Camera: Hasselblad X1D
Copyright: © Wendy Bednarz