The Surma is an ethnicity that lives primarily in South Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia. One of their cultural practices involves ceramics: before marriage many women remove their bottom teeth, have their lips pierced and then stretch their lips. This allows a clay disc to be inserted in the piercing.
Above image: Matilda Temperley, Surma woman, AD7. Ceramic plate, edition of 3 plus 1AP. Life size image, presented in a black box frame with a 4 inch double archival mount and UV glass (framed 81.6 x 105.4cm).
Photographer Matilda Temperley shot the images shown here. Temperley comes from Somerset, UK. She studied at the London School of Tropical Medicine and worked on Malaria prevention in East Africa for two years. She then became a photographer, working in fashion and on her personal projects, which document marginalized societies. She won the Royal Photographic Society’s Vic Odden Award in 2015 for her book, Under the Surface — Somerset Floods.
In their writeup of the series Ministry of Nomads cites Temperley, who states: “I have always admired the bravery of the mavericks who are comfortable to sit outside society’s norms.” They state:
“Her images are a tribute to the beauty and grace of the people of the Valley. They capture a time when tribal fashions such as lip plates and scarification are being supplanted by global fashions such as baseball caps, football shirts and, more sinisterly, the bearing of Kalashnikovs and the Chinese-made guns that flood all East Africa’s’ borders.
“The cultural heritage appears fragile, threatened by the world encroaching upon the territory but the people, with their inherent capacity for transition, take incoming influences and fashion them into their own estimations.”
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