People with albinism are a marginal group who are socially stigmatised due to their physical appearance across the globe. In countries like Tanzania, this prejudice manifests into acts discrimination and extreme brutally, causing photographers to produce art to raise social awareness and facilitate change.
Albinism is a genetic condition characterised by partially or severely reduced levels of melanin pigment in a person’s skin, hair and eyes. The condition is hereditary and occurs in a recessive pattern, meaning both parents must carry the gene for a child to be born with it. Albinism is present in all ethnic and racial groups effecting 1 in 20,000 people worldwide. In saying this, the condition is significantly more prevalent in Africa. For example, in Tanzania, 1 in 1429 people are diagnosed, which is 7 times higher than the global rate.
People with albinism are extremely sensitive to light and are at high risk of numerous conditions such as involuntary rapid eye movements (nystagmus), crossed eyes (strabismus), blindness, sunburn and skin cancer. Despite these physical disadvantages, the greatest problem people with albinism face is arguably the stigma, discrimination and prosecution they experience within society.
According to Giorgio Brocco of the Freie Universität Berlin: “People with albinism in African countries live in marginalised social conditions and a state of economic vulnerability because, aside from having a different appearance and suffering from visual impairments, they cannot actively take part in agrarian work due to their sensitivity to the sun, and this effectively excludes them from engaging in the major productive activity in most rural areas.”
The mistreatment of people with albinism is particularly extreme in Tanzania, where they—especially women— are often violently attacked and mutilated. This is because witch-doctors use their limbs and organs to make potions and amulets, as they believe albino blood has magical properties that bring good fortune. According the the United Nations, their body parts can sell for around $1,000 USD on the black market.
In the purist of this wealth, a group of men broke into 28 year old Mariam’s home and attacked her during the night.
“The leader had a machete, a torch and a bottle, he started to cut me up. He cut off this arm and gave it to the man with him. I was being slaughtered like a goat,” she said to the United Nations.
Alongside national and international NGO’s and public awareness campaigns, many photographers are creating art to help fight the stigma, promote tolerance and celebrate the beauty of people with albinism.
Here some of FIB’s favourite photographer activists:
The Umoja Photographers are a group of young Tanzanians, with and without albinism, who are passionate about facilitating social change through using photography as “a weapon to amplify marginalised perspectives.”
The group was formed by the human rights group Standing Voice in 2017, and are trained at annual summer workshops by professional photographer, Brian Benson, and volunteers Kim Fisher and Sarah Bancroft.
It’s wonderful to be able to travel around the villages. I would say acceptance of people with albinism seems to be growing, which is hopefully, in part, a result of the photography workshop. By having people with albinism go out into the communities and demonstrate a skill, they start to earn some respect,” Brian Benson said.
Photographer Patricia Willoq returned to her birth country, Congo (DRC) to produce a photo essay titled White Ebony, which captures the everyday lives of people with albinism.
From her experience, although people with albinism in the Congo are better off then their Tanzanian and Burundian counterparts, they are still stigmatised and discriminated against by the society.
“This photo report is a testimony of hope, courage, love and success to give them the dignity they deserve. It can hopefully be used to promote understanding and tolerance towards people with albinism in the Congo and in the rest of Africa,” Patricia explains in her artist statement.
Yulia Tait is an Israeli photographer whose photo series, Porcelain Beauty, aims to showcase the unique beauty of people with albinism.
“As a Photoshop artist, I have a passion to create fantasy worlds through my work and artistry. This series was an amazing experience for me because I could create this beautiful photography without Photoshop. What transpired was pure natural beauty,” Yula said,
“I got a lot of feedback from people, many of them were people with Albinism. They were saying my project is so powerful and it makes them feel beautiful and confident in the way they are. “
Let us know what you think of these photos and the activism in the comments below!