The Bondo Culture
A Photograph by Hickmatu Leigh
Only one woman is in focus, and her eyes are shut. She’s bearing some load, likely a basin, wrapped in cream fabric. A slice of shadow cuts through her upper body, as deep as the darkness in the background. To speak of colours in this photograph—the brown in her scarf, blue of her pullover, black of her beads—is to move in circles around the core of the moment. For, her face is not in the middle of speech or a chorus, and neither does the angle of her head suggest the basin is overweight. What is this balance, this serenity, this inner vision?
— Emmanuel Iduma
“Photography connects two souls by a single glance.”
This image was taken in Matotoka, a town in Sane Chiefdom, Tonkolili District, in the northern province of Sierra Leone. I got the idea of a story from my friend who was volunteering for PfefferminzGreen; they make sure young girls and women are protected from cutting (FGM) (called “Bondo” in my local language) while upholding the culture. As a woman I know this issue has affected so many women around the world. I wanted to witness this, and so I reached out and offered to take pictures.
Photography is impactful because it allows people to see the world from different perspectives. It connects two souls just by a single glance.
— Hickmatu Leigh
About Hickmatu Leigh
Hickmatu Leigh completed a BSc in Public Health at the Njala University in Sierra Leone and is currently studying for her masters in social and behavioral health sciences. She says of her work: “My photo series are almost always of Sierra Leonean women just as they are—multidimensional, polymaths, modern, traditional, soft, powerful, and boundless—forever evolving to supersede local and global stereotypes of what their limits are.” You can follow her on Instagram.
Last Week — A year of conversations on African photography
In the immediate sense, my commitment has been to look at a photograph until it uncovers its own heart. My captions are written in one sitting, a single take, the aim being to practice an immediacy of response. The sentences I write are in service to the photographs, and in the foremost sense, I owe a continuous debt of homage to the photographers who agree to be featured.
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This is the 53rd edition of this publication. The newsletter can also read on web (best for viewing images), and via the Substack iOS/Android apps. Every week I feature one photograph and the photographer who took it: you’d read a short caption from me, and a statement from the photographer. My goal is to support early to mid-career African photographers by engaging with their work, and to create a platform in which photographers lead the cataloguing and criticism of their work. If this newsletter was shared with you, consider subscribing, or forward to a friend. Please whitelist the newsletter to ensure you never miss it.