“Our cultures suggest we are eternal beings. Full of energy, carrying our ancestors ancestors dreams and the spirit of the universe with us. Most African traditions believe in more than just one plane of existence; and therefore in death there is also life – funerals become a ritual ground of saying goodbye in this life in preparation of saying hello in another. Sometimes the focus being on celebration and appreciation rather than a morbid flatline.
There are also a variety of traditions carried out across the continent that I as an African was intrigued to find out more about. From the Ghanaian choreographed pole bearers, to the Zulu belief of covering all reflective objects, to the Tanzanians fading practice of having Watani (comedians) at a funeral; the continent is full of vibrant, emotional and spiritual means of saying goodbye.
Fufuka, meaning rise again (resurrected) in Swahili, is a visual series inspired by a mixture of cultural beliefs of an afterlife intertwined with my own understanding of life and death. The video and images contain various symbolism in both western and african practices at funerals.”
Work & Process
Watani and the Magic Mirror – In traditional tanzanian culture every tribe is paired with another, and in the case of funerals, this “complementary” tribe is known as the “Watani’s”. The Chaga tribes, Watanis are the Pares; and therefore at a Chaga funeral, some Pares would dress up as the deceased, acting like them, singing/dancing – providing ‘comic relief’. They also help cook and clean. The video showcases the multiple people dressing the same with various stances- they represent the Watanis.
In the centre, the usual still portrait comes to life and starts moving; this represents the belief of the continuation of life.
The images all represent various beliefs around funerals and death. In the Transition, we see both the body and the spirit, on different sides of the rope that represents a ‘life line’. In both “Limbo” and “Judgement” the faces are blocked out; this is inspired by the Zulu tradition of covering photos of the lost loved one and mirrors during the mourning period. “Limbo” is plays with the various ideas of waiting in purgatory, the spirit floats somewhere between the physical and the spiritual while in “Judgement” i explore the various lives we live in one. The bodies hanging from the ropes symbolize how we all adapt and change through our lives, our past selves and decisions literally ‘hanging’ over us.
Modelled by Nigerian poet and Artist Afopefoluwa Ojo.
Original photos taken in collaboration with Tanzanian photographer Andrew Munene.
Sound Clip in video edited by Ghanaian Visual Artist Hakeem Adam.
Editing, Art/creative direction, set design, styling and clothing by me.
About the Artist
Valerie Amani is a Dar es Salaam born and based fashion designer, makeup artist and graphic designer. She is the founder and creative director of Kahvarah, a boutique fashion label that focuses on the African narrative; the co-founder of R.R Creative Agency, a creative consultancy which has placed her behind the visual language of various brands in Tanzania; as well as the visual art program manager at Nafasi Art Space where she curates exhibitions and workshops. Valerie combines her digital art with her love of writing to tackle issues on neo-colonialism, environmental awareness and feminism.