KEENE, N.H. (August 1) – The Tuareg and Woodabe Fulani people, desert nomads who inhabit West Africa's extensive Sahara and Sahel regions, will be brought to life at MURPHYARTS this summer through a series of photographs. The images, taken in the Republic of Niger by Ariane Kirtley—a former Fulbright scholar who has made it her mission to help save the lives of these desert dwellers—will showcase a rich, artistic, poetic culture now struggling for survival. Kirtley's photographs are not so much reflective of the death and disease these Nigeriens fight each day, but of families in colorful veils who make intricate jewelry and modestly celebrate the life they still have to live.
The daughter of two National Geographic photographers, Kirtley spent parts of her childhood traveling throughout Africa. Although she witnessed poverty and hardship in her travels as a young girl, when she returned decades later, what she saw in parts of this West African desert alarmed her. "I thought I knew about water problems in Niger," said Kirtley, referring to her travels through the Azawak Valley, a region of the southern Sahara Desert stretching through Niger and Mali. "I had no idea… I had never before seen people literally dying of thirst."
What she photographed in the Azawak were 500,000 people who suffer from severe water shortages in a region largely abandoned by the world. What she witnessed was little girls—9, 10 and 11 years old—traveling up to 35 miles roundtrip just to get to the nearest source of water. What she is trying to save is a dignified and generous community—severely affected
by a warming climate—currently dying of thirst.
Part photographer, part activist, Kirtley has not only taken a collage of impressive photographs, but has also started a deep well-digging program called Amman Imman, or "water is life," to help people living in the Azawak. In this remote region with no roads or trails, health centers or schools nearby, Amman Imman is the only organization working to dig deep, permanent, sustainable wells called boreholes. Last summer, the organization dug its first borehole well 600 feet below the Earth's surface, which serves the needs of up to 25,000 people and their animals.
Although currently half of children born in the Azawak die before they turn five, with one quarter dying from dehydration alone, Kirtley hopes that by building more borehole wells Amman Imman will act as an impetus to change all of this. "Until there is a permanent and sustainable flow of water in the region, no organization will come to the Azawak," she said. "I hope that our work will serve as a catalyst for humanitarian organizations to bring much-needed developmental aid, such food aid, health care, education and gender equity to the region."
The photography exhibit, Amman Imman: Water is Life—Bringing Water and Hope to Those Who Have None, will be a testimony to the need for this change. The exhibit will open Friday, August 1, 2008, at MURPHYARTS. A reception will follow Thursday, August 7, 2008, from 5 to 8 p.m. The photographs will remain on display through September 14, 2008.
MURPHYARTS is located at Colony Mill Marketplace, 222 West St., in Keene.
Julie Snorek, a volunteer with Amman Imman who lived and worked with Tuareg nomads in Niger, and Dennis Hamilton, the project's associate director, will be present to answer questions and provide information about Amman Imman's work and the cultures depicted in the exhibit. All proceeds from the sale of the photographs will go to Amman Imman.
Program Amman Imman is a Washington, D.C.-based program, working in partnership with the American non-profit The Friendship Caravan. For more information, please visit: www.waterishope.org.