Winner of the first annual Africa Soft Power Climate Change Photo Essay Prize announced

The photographers’ work will be shown globally, with a special display in Nairobi and dedicated exhibitions in New York, London, and Lagos. Doux Free, a Rwandan photographer, is named the overall winner of the prize.

Africa Soft Power (ASP), in association with African Women on Board (AWB), launched the Climate Change Photo Essay Prize for young people by open call earlier this year. Budding photographers across Africa and the global diaspora community participated by sending in over 200 photographs. The prize shows how photography can be a powerful tool for climate literacy and amplifies African perspectives on the conversation around climate change.

Doux Free, a Rwandan photographer, has been chosen by the judges as the overall winner for his series Misty Morning of Changes (The Climate and the Life in the Field). Silhouetted figures walk to the field, carrying their farming equipment on a foggy morning. The series captures what the artist calls the ‘serene connection between humans and the environment’ and the ‘timeless yet evolving impact of climate change on our surroundings’.

The other finalists are Nigerian photographer, Eiseke Bolaji, Togolese photographer, Emerson Lawson, and Nigerian photographer, Abubakar Sadiq Mustapha.

Eiseke Bolaji’s work considers how global cultural interaction impacts daily life. In the series The Old Woman and the Sea, he examines the nuanced and complex relationship between one woman, Mama Alabo, and the ocean. Dredging, overfishing, and plastic pollution now pose a food security challenge to Mama Alabo, who relies on the sea for her livelihood.

Emerson Lawson’s series AMEWUGA imagines how our (in)actions today will have lasting implications for generations to come. AMEWUGA is an Ewe word meaning ‘human beings are worth more than money’. The series is set in the hypothetical year of 2092, where clean air is a luxury and cylinders of oxygen are sold as a commodity. The artist says that ‘AMEWUGA is a cry, a wake-up call’.

Abubakar Sadiq Mustapha’s portrait series, Things That Went with the Water, explores what came of communities as they began to emerge from the devastation of flooding across Northeastern and Northwestern Nigeria. The photographer notes that these

floods that cost individuals their homes, farms, and dreams ‘are caused by rising global temperature which results in heavy downpours, and thermal expansion of the ocean which in turn results in a rise in sea level, deforestation, rapid urbanization, poor spatial planning, and poor solid waste management, including drainage systems being used as dump sites’.

Global spotlight on a global issue

Leading galleries have joined as partners to host a series of international exhibitions on the works of the Climate Photo Essay Prize finalists. They are:

The Capital Club, Nairobi, during the Africa Climate Week, September 2023 ● The Africa Center, New York, during the UN General Assembly, September 2023

● The Africa Centre, London, during Frieze Week, October 2023 ● An Africa Soft Power exhibition in Lagos, Nigeria, November 2023

“Climate is THE key intersectional challenge of the day, increasingly affecting wider issues such as health, society, geopolitics, economics, security, and equality, as its impact grows,” said Nkiru Balonwu, Founder & CEO of the Africa Soft Power Group. “Africa has long since been disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change, and by 2050, 25% of the world’s population is set to be housed on the continent. It is therefore imperative that the young people of today become the climate soldiers of tomorrow, protecting the planet on the environmental frontlines. We are excited to see the creative efforts that come back to us by way of this contest, and the exhibitions that will be staged around the world as a result.”

Oba Nsugbe, Chair of the Board, The Africa Centre, London – a partner on the exhibition agrees. “The Photo Essay Prize exhibition at the Africa Centre, London showcases the power of art to inspire us all. At a time when conversations about climate change are more urgent than ever, it represents an important opportunity to foster meaningful discussions that transcend borders and elevate the voices of creatives from Africa and the global diaspora community. This exhibition is an exciting moment in our burgeoning relationship with Africa Soft Power.”

“The Africa Center is honoured to host one in a series of compelling international exhibitions for the winners of Africa Soft Power’s Photo Essay Prize, particularly as global leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly,” said Uzodinma Iweala, Chief Executive Officer, The Africa Center, New York. “Through our collaboration with Africa Soft Power, we aim to highlight the urgent need for climate action in Africa, that will have impacts across the world and to amplify the voices of the talented photographers who captured the beauty, challenges, and resilience of the communities in which they live across the continent. This partnership speaks to the spirit of collaboration that is foundational to The Africa Center’s mission.”

Leading figures from the art world

Three judges met to determine the finalists and winner of the prize. The judging panel based their decisions on the photographs that best depict the theme (climate change and your community) and convey a compelling story/message. The photographers’ names were removed from their entries for the judging process. The judges were: Julie Crooks, Curator, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora at the Art Gallery of Ontario; Dr. Kenneth Montague, Toronto-based art collector and the founding director of Wedge Curatorial Projects, a non-profit arts organization; and Renée Mussai, Artistic Director of The Walther Collection, a New York-based arts foundation.

The prize is being supported by; law firm, Templars; ClimateWorks Foundation and Fenchurch Group. The prize is part of a wider ‘Road to 100 Million Climate Soldiers in Africa’ campaign run by African Women on Board, and designed to educate and empower young people living on the frontlines of the fight against climate change.

Femi Isaac is a Pan-African communications consultant, tech-enthusiast and social commentator. He can be reached via [email protected]

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