The Ghost People of Tanzania
They are called, zeru zeru, which in Swahili translates to the ghost people , these are the persecuted people with albinism in Tanzania. Albinism is a congenital disorder characterized by the lack of melanin in the skin, hair, and eyes. Currently, Tanzania holds the world’s largest population of people with albinism (PWA) at 1 in every 1,400 individuals - but for country with such a large community there is little awareness on the fact that albinism is actually a genetic condition. Witchcraft is at the root of Tanzanian culture, and witch doctors create ‘Albino elixir ’ using albino body parts fueling beliefs that the potion brings wealth, power, and good fortune. As a result of these misconceptions, the albinism population lives under the daily threat of abuse, abductions, and ritual killings.
When human rights are ignored, the marginalization of certain persons within a society prevents such a group from becoming involved and benefitting from development. The first chapter of this project, commenced in fall of 2017 throughout various regions and albinism communities throughout Tanzania. Through powerful testimony and public art, this visual advocacy project explores the identities of 50 Tanzanians with albinism and shares proof of the hardships and heart-wrenching reality that this community has endured. The aim is to combat discrimination and abuse for the inclusive human rights of this community, through education and advocacy.
Photography can be a strong voice, and often, the most persuasive to raise awareness and concern for a social justice issue. To combat discrimination and raise advocacy for the inclusive human rights of this community, this projects empowers individuals to tell their own story rather than someone tell it for them. In the means of large-scale diptychs, these photographs are exhibited throughout villages and cities in Tanzania as a means of a public space for an encounter and to drive towards breaking the cycle of oppression. One side of the diptych displays a portrait of a Tanzanian with albinism, conveying their unique personality and identity. The other reveals a written passage sharing their experience or report of what it means to suffer from the albinism condition in Tanzania. With granted permission, hundreds of diptychs are hung throughout the country and posted on bus stops, tuk-tuks, schools, businesses, and boats. The vast array of coverage allowed for the very society that created these fallacies, to first hand witness the hardships and circumstances the albinism community has endured. My goal is to create an uncomfortable intimacy between the viewer and those depicted, through the process of deconstructing the social superstitions to provoke complex conversations towards social change.
This project is uniquely relevant to the mission of social change as it engages its audience to become aware of injustices and drive towards a more fair society. This project aims to expand throughout Tanzania, specifically to reach secluded communities (such as the Great Lakes region), to prompt movement towards eradicating traditional beliefs rooted in hate. I find this gross violation rights to be extremely disturbing, and it is what fuels much of my research and photography. As there is urgency in this social injustice issue, this project strives to reach a deeper layer of coverage to evoke change towards justice for the Tanzanian albinism community.