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British photographer Jim Naughten has the ability to awaken historical narratives through his images. His work has been widely featured in exhibitions across Europe and the US – from the National Portrait Gallery and the Imperial War Museum in London to the Klompching Gallery for Contemporary and Fine Art Photography in New York.
Jim first visited Namibia in his early 20s, while travelling through southwest Africa by bike. It was during this time that he spotted a group of African women on the outskirts of the Namib desert, wearing what appeared to be 18th century colonial attire. This first encounter with the Herero tribe birthed a fascination for Jim that endures today.
Jim discovered through later research that the Herero people’s particular way of dressing is imbued with meaning. The women’s colourful dresses, filled with layers of petticoats and paired with headdresses that mimic the horns of cattle, as well as trumpeter-style costumes worn ceremoniously by Herero boys and men, serve as a visual articulation of the tribe’s harrowing past.
During the colonisation of Africa by European forces at the turn of the 19th century, the Herero people were systematically shot or forced into concentration camps where they were starved and worked to death by German colonisers. More than 80 per cent of the Herero population were wiped out in an act that is now interpreted by many as the blueprint for the concentration camps of the Third Reich. The Herero people see their hybridised way of dress as a permanent tribute to those who perished during this time as well as a symbolic act of defiance that subverts the traditional clothing of their oppressors.
On his return to Namibia decades after his first visit, Jim Naughten produced a series of provocative portraits that profile the dress of the Herero tribe. His book Conflict and Costume not only provides an important visual commentary on the Herero culture of southwest Africa, but is also an inspiring visual compilation that has garnered fans within the fashion industry – from Victoria Beckham to Sir Paul Smith.
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