On Feb. 1, photographer and Guggenheim fellow Pradip Malde visited the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to give a talk about his book “From Where Loss Comes,” about the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), specifically in his birth country of Tanzania.
Malde’s presentation featured photographs from the book, which included images of the tools used in FGM/C, performed re-enactments of the cutting and other, more symbolic images meant to represent various aspects of the practice and its harmful effects on the bodies and psyches of its victims.
Malde’s work is also meant to point more broadly at gender-based violence and discrimination throughout the world.
“FGM/C does not happen out there, somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. It is in each of us, we have to look closely to find it. And that is when it becomes complex and complicated. The more closely one looks, the less clearly defined the issue becomes,” Malde said.
Malde shared that at the core of the issue is the systemic problem of gender inequality and patriarchy, and that reckoning with that will be key to moving forward and forging change.
“It’s a pollutant almost from our past. We don’t need it. So how do we move forward from that? I really think it’s going to take a lot of care for identifying our patterns of behavior, and then trying to break those patterns,” Malde said.
Malde continued by saying that we will need to rethink major current and pressing issues in our society in order to have real and lasting change.
“This is ultimately a political question as well. That if we’re to break these cycles, we have to rethink what we believe about welfare and social care, taxation, all of them. It’s about all of them, not one of those things is actually going to work on its own,” Malde said.
The talk was arranged by associate professor Stephanie Paine who had met Malde at a panel discussion in Manhattan. Paine was drawn to his work by the way he handles a difficult subject and uses his art to draw attention to it.
“He’s taking a very serious and traumatic subject and he’s bringing awareness to it by producing these beautiful prints, beautiful images. And images of people that are intimate portrayals,” Paine said, “And so to me that was the most compelling part: the contrast between how he’s photographing and what he’s talking about.”
Paine’s biggest takeaway from the talk was how artists can talk about important issues without being explicit in their depiction of it, again touching on the relationship between art and its message.
“What he’s photographing and how he’s photographing it, in contrast to these very important topics, there’s that tension there between the two,” Paine said. “How do you depict something? How do you talk about these things? How do you invite your audience into studying an image, but also raising awareness?”
Luna Smith and Hollis Russel, both seniors majoring in animation, shared how Malde’s work effectively brought light to an important issue.
“Seeing this was really sobering and it really drew me in because I think it’s important to show the reality of those sorts of things sometimes. But overall very interesting talk,” Smith said.
“It was really enlightening to bring the beauty of the images to this issue and this kind of really dangerous and horrible thing that we don’t want to otherwise look at,” Russell said. “And hearing him talk about his process of bringing attention by making something beautiful, making something into art so that it is tangible and we can take a hold of that fear. It gave me a lot to think about.”