'30 at 30' tells a Rich story

One of the pictures by Rich Allela at the exhibition.

The El Molo tribe is a significant focus in ‘30 at 30’, an experiential photographic exhibition which opened at Movenpick Hotel on Tuesday. The curator, Rich Allela, travelled to villages to compose this body of work. One such place the art photographer set camp was at Loyiangalani, a small village at the shores of Lake Turkana. It is a home of the El Molo, the smallest tribe in Kenya.

The outcome of his interaction with the tribe were several art pieces, including ‘Vanishing Tribe’, a silhouette of three men on the shores of the lake. This is a symbolic representation of the nearly extinct community- there are only about 300 pure El Molos.

This decline in numbers is attributed to the fact that the tribe’s people have a rare condition that makes them vulnerable to disease and their babies do not get to live long. Most of them have since intermarried with bigger tribes like Rendille, Samburu and Turkana, and as a consequence, are speaking these other languages.

“In this piece, you cannot see their faces. No faces, names nor language. This tribe will remain a distant silhouette in the history of our nation. No one would remember how the people looked like. Very soon, the tribe will not be with us,” says Rich.

Through this piece, which also happens to be one that the artist is proudest of, he engraves this part of history. He did, in ‘Sybil’, a portrait of an elderly El Molo woman dressed in traditional attire. Her aging face depicts rich knowledge about the practices of her community but she is not sure whether her culture will survive. ‘The Promise’ is a portrait of a young woman, also in cultural attire, seemingly unaware that she is hope to the continuity of their culture.

‘Homestretch’ is of a fisherman on a makeshift raft rowing back to the shores after fishing, a source of livelihood for the El Molos.

These are some of the 30 pieces for this exhibition, with the aim of celebrating culture and heritage. The award-winning photographer compiled these pieces to celebrate his birthday as he turns 30 this year. 

“I believe that creativity starts from the day you are born. This exhibition is a culmination of all my creative efforts up to this moment. To me, creativity is freedom. It is working without boundaries. It is a way of expression that can come out either through music or photo, or any other form of art. I believe that it is an expression of our innermost feelings,” he says.

The artist shows cultural and modern aspects of other communities as well. In ‘The Matriarch’, an elderly Turkana woman with a tough exterior has a warm motherly aura. ‘Il Polei’ is of a Maasai Moran holding a Kudu horn, the traditional instrument used to communicate important messages. ‘Serenade’ celebrates the art of music showcasing the waterfalls of Karura Forest as a backdrop.

“I am motivated by my environment and the people I live with. I read a lot on history and I tend to look at everyday experiences and ask myself how I can make it better and tell a story from it. I try to come up with extremely creative compositions. People assume my photos are not done by a Kenyan or an African,” he says.

With the intention of conveying the story powerfully, Rich gave the audience at the show a peek into the behind-the-scenes experiences. Using software application, Artivive, they were able to see the people, environment, creative process and activities that took place when Rich took the photos.

“The most integral part of my work is telling stories, especially of the African culture and heritage. It is becoming eroded each and every day, and I want to keep creating art around this, with the hope that the young generation embraces our history. I hope the exhibition encourages young creatives to celebrate their culture and seek innovative ways to tell these stories,” he says.

The exhibition, which runs until Sunday, is a big milestone for Allela, as a man who is coming of age in his artistry. He is a product designer by profession and has worked as a shoe designer for three years. During that period, he decided to pursue art photography at a creative outlet.

“Since I loved it very much, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to do what I love. The journey has not been easy, but getting to this point is affirmation,” he says.

He is now a full-time artist at Rich Studios Africa. His work has been published in several magazines and featured by CNN and BBC. Allela is the first Kenyan to have his photos featured on Canon product packages globally.