Sierra Leoneans in America | The Accidental Artist Part One

Baltimore 3/19/2013---International Women's Day has come and gone but the celebration isn't quite over on Sewa News. All through March, it's "Women's History Month" in the United States of America—home for almost 30 years to Sierra Leonean transplant, Hannah Faux. Artist, jewelry maker, and an award-winning photographer, Hannah's passion for life and art is simply enchanting. Sewa News caught up with her online to chat about a recent trip to Freetown. 
Dried Cockle: Used in stews, jollof rice, etc., offers a smokey flavoring to a dish. 

Grains and legumes 

Sewa News Stream: You went to Sierra Leone in 2010 to document Sierra Leonean life and came back with some fascinating images. What prompted the visit?

Hannah Faux: I actually went to Sierra Leone in 2009 and '11, but the trip in the summer of 2010 with my daughter was significant because she had just graduated that spring and was about to go away to Europe for a couple of years. I knew that would be our last trip to Freetown for a long time.

Some people get a dog when a child goes off to college. Well, we already had two cats and my son was still at home, so I decided to take up photography. [At work was] the World Bank/IMF Photographic Society and I had friends who were members—serious award-winning photographers whose work I greatly appreciated. I also enjoyed the month-long exhibit of juried photographs by talented members of the club on display at the [IMF] Atrium annually. I wanted very much to be a part of that club for so many years but I couldn't stay for the monthly meetings or competitions which took place after work since I had to pick up my children from school. So you can imagine that the first opportunity I had after my daughter left home for college, I joined the club!

Only, by then, I no longer simply wanted to take beautiful landscape, nature, or people photography. I joined because I wanted to learn how to take great pictures of the fabulous beaded jewelry I was engrossed in making as a hobby--jewelry that my friends and colleagues were wearing! I wanted to build a website and registered for a web design class at the local community college. Little did I know that photographing my jewelry and jewelry making, in general, was about to take a back seat to the art of photography. That is how it all started. Well, somewhat!

And so it was that when I went to Freetown in 2009, I took my Canon DSLR camera, a back-up point and shoot camera, several lenses, and an imposing microfiber tripod to photograph Freetown and its environs as a documentarian, avid amateur photographer, and, more important, as a Sierra Leonean. I am distinctly proud that several of the images I made during that and subsequent trips to Freetown have been awarded first place prizes in various competitions in Washington, D.C., and have been on exhibit at the World Bank, the IMF headquarters in D.C., and in other local galleries.

SNS: Some of my favorite images in the 2010 album were those you took at King Jimmy “Makit” (Market). Please tell us about the various products you photographed.

HF: Going to King Jimmy Market was a trip! Literally! While I have visited numerous markets all over the world and enjoy the colors, sights, and sounds of marketplaces, would you believe that I had never been to the historic King Jimmy Market?! So, on that trip to Freetown, I planned to take pictures of the people, the various produce, fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, and the plethora of “stuff” in general that I knew would be fascinating and quite a discovery after so many years of living abroad. I wasn't disappointed!

Admittedly, it is a bit strange (could be perceived as pretentiousness) to be from a country and be seen as “oohing” and “aahing” over common everyday foods. Not so, I don’t think, for the average Sierra Leonean however. Most of us go through life knowing precious little about the country as a whole and never really wonder. Anyhow, I explained the purpose of my visit to the good women at the market and they were very gracious and accommodating in allowing me to photograph their wares amid the hustle of a busy morning in anticipation of a fruitful day! I was mindful not to get in the way.

My intent in photographing the market that day was to create artistic competition-worthy images--not particularly documentary. Though the images I ended up with are rather of a documentary nature, I am just as proud and grateful for the opportunity. The images serve, among other things, as a beautiful reminder of a place I call home, even if that place is no longer truly home.

Below are just a few of the images from King Jimmy Market, a historical port in Freetown that was once the center of the 18th Century Slave Trade in Sierra Leone.

Palm kernel (below) can be eaten raw as a snack or used in some cuisine, especially Liberian, to make palm butter soup. These edible seeds are from the palm tree and are primarily used in Sierra Leone to make palm kernel oil.

Palm Kernel oil ready for home cooking; sold by the cup, it is affordable for all.

Sierra Leonean fufu (foofoo) is made from cassava and usually eaten on Saturdays with special sauces such as bitter leaves, sorrel, and okra, among others.

Tamarind (locally known as tombi)

African women on small rainfed farms produce up to 70-80 percent of the domestic food supply in most sub-Saharan African societies and also provide 46 percent of the agricultural labor.  --Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa

More to explore...See Part Two


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