Zebra people

HR-DSC5674-copyThird generation Kenyan visual artist and photographer Mia Collis talks to msafiri about her recent photo exhibition, ‘Zebra People’. The exhibition was organised jointly with Grevy’s Zebra Trust at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi and later held around the US and Europe.

Q What motivates you?
I am driven by the web of forces that play out daily in Kenya. There are stories that can only be told here. In photography, the frantic pace of our lives can be stilled and observed. Curating the warriors’ images has been a wonderful experience and will hopefully transmit a breath of understanding and connection.

Q What is the Zebra People story all about?
The Grevy’s Zebra Trust has re-engaged some traditional knowledge by employing young warriors from the nomadic tribes of the Northern Rangelands to travel the arid semi-deserts of northern Kenya. They act as guardians and observers of one of the world’s most threatened species, the Grevy’s zebra. Working with biologists and conservation scientists, they are armed with cameras, checklists, and thousands of years of traditional experience. Much of the data is contained in photographic images that also record their daily lives. Zebra People is a photographic record of a traditional culture in a time of transition: a look at their work through their own lenses.

Q Why the focus on the Grevy’s zebra? 
As for so many of Africa’s large grazing animals, drought, global warming and over-grazing are making it very hard for the Grevy’s zebra population to recover from that period of unregulated hunting that drove down their numbers in the 1960s and ’70s. Now, the vast majority of the 2800 Grevy’s that still remain on planet earth are within Kenya’s boundaries. The Grevy’s are Kenya’s to save or to lose.

Q What are the aims of the exhibition?
This exhibition is the recognition of a bold step, in a distant region, by a small and dedicated group of traditional people who have agreed to hold out the chance for survival to a beautiful and ancient icon of the African plains.

Q Your parting shot?
The Grevy’s zebras are desperately endangered, but there is hope. The Grevy’s Zebra Trust is leading a quiet revolution in animal conservation. The Zebra People exhibition is an experience of that revolution.