Mário Macilau Receives James Barnor Photography Prize 2023

Mario Macilau A candle man from Faith series 2018. Courtesy of Ed Cross

In a momentous occasion for the world of photography and art, Mário Macilau, the multi-disciplinary artist-activist from Mozambique, has been honored with the prestigious James Barnor Photography Prize 2023. This esteemed recognition, accompanied by a generous €10,000 grant, serves as a testament to Macilau’s outstanding contribution to the world of visual storytelling. His acclaimed series, “Faith,” which chronicles the practice of animism in contemporary Mozambique, has left an indelible mark on the art world.

Born in 1984 in Maputo, Mário Macilau’s journey into the realm of art and photography is one marked by determination and a profound connection to his subjects. Raised in a challenging environment, he had to work at a young age to support his family. These early life experiences have significantly shaped his artistic approach. Today, Macilau operates between Maputo, Lisbon, and Cape Town, constantly traveling to produce his photographic masterpieces. Over the years, he has developed a distinctive style characterized by a deep sensitivity to his subjects and an unparalleled ability to connect with them.

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Faith Series.Hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 133 × 200 cm. Image courtesy of Artsy.

Macilau’s award-winning series, “Faith,” shines a light on the practice of animism in contemporary Mozambique. This belief system, which recognizes the presence of a soul or spirit in everything, is documented through Macilau’s lens within traditional religions. His work not only captures the beauty of these traditions but also serves as a vital documentation of isolated communities facing increasing threats due to climate change. At a time when the world is awakening to the importance of preserving traditional practices, Macilau’s work takes on added significance.

The James Barnor Foundation, based in the United Kingdom, initiated the James Barnor Photography Prize in 2020 with the aim of enhancing access to arts education and training, preserving African cultures, and showcasing African cultural talent. James Barnor himself, a pioneer in Ghanaian photography, has dedicated his life to sharing his work with new generations of African photographers. Now, at the age of 94, he continues to inspire contemporary artists and has manifested this spirit of mentorship through the annual prize dedicated to African photographers.

The Prize operates on a six-year cycle, focusing each year on a different region of the African continent. The 2022 edition honored the West African region, recognizing the talents of Beninese photographer Sènami Donoumassou. The James Barnor Foundation’s emphasis on African photography aligns with its objectives of supporting African culture, providing education, training, and promotion opportunities for emerging African artists.

Mário Macilau’s journey into photography began in 2003, initially involving years of training and dedication. In 2007, he transitioned to a professional career as a photographer, leaving behind his mother’s cell phone in favor of a NIKON FM2 camera. His rapid ascent in the world of photography has been marked by numerous awards, international work opportunities, and global exhibitions. Notably, his work was featured at the Dakar Biennale in 2022 as part of the Fondation Dapper’s presentation. In 2015, he published his first book, “Growing in Darkness,” with Kehrer Editions, featuring texts by Roger Ballen, Mia Couto, and Simon Njami.

Macilau’s photography delves into questions of identity, politics, and environmental issues, giving voice to socially marginalized groups while also shedding light on global inequalities and social injustices. His art captures the raw realities of life while fostering social consciousness. He seamlessly captures the profound impact of the environment on individuals’ daily lives, always striving for authenticity and avoiding the emotional barriers that cameras can sometimes create.

Mário Macilau’s recognition as the 2023 James Barnor Photography Prize recipient is a testament to his exceptional talent, unwavering dedication, and artistic vision. His journey from a self-taught photographer in the bustling markets of Mozambique to an internationally acclaimed artist is an inspiring narrative that resonates with all who value the power of visual storytelling. In his work, we glimpse not only the soul of Mozambique but also universal stories of humanity that transcend borders and cultures, making him a deserving recipient of this prestigious accolade.

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