Photographer Henry J. Kamara on his lifelong commitment to preserving Sierra Leonean culture

Opening September’s Nicer Tuesdays was London-based photographer Henry J. Kamara, who began by reminiscing about his childhood growing up in a Sierra Leonean household. “From a very young age I was aware of my diaspora – I grew up in a culture that was defined by Sierra Leone,” he says. “When I was at home, I ate Sierra Leonean food and listened to Sierra Leonean music.” This early exposure to the sounds, smells and tastes of his parent’s home country later led him to focus his photography practice on his heritage, and he became interested in making work in and about Sierra Leone.
Henry explained that these pursuits became part of a wider project that he titled Keeper of the Flame, which brings together all of his documentary work in the country. “[The project] began with me talking to my family and reconnecting with what it was like to grow up in Sierra Leone,” he recalls. Eventually, during later trips, he began to further hone in on specific issues and subjects – one of which was the main series he had joined us to talk about: Keep the Drums, Lose the Knife. Initiated in support of a domestic violence organisation of the same name – which was founded by activist Sarian Karim-Kamara – the series explores the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which has long plagued Sierra Leone. Henry then took the audience through some of the many images he has captured, explaining that they have culminated in a forthcoming book, which he is currently fundraising for. He concluded by asking for support in publishing it, and revealing his hopes for the work: “I gravitated towards this project because I saw the ripple effect FGM can have on women’s lives… I think many issues like this one can be solved by making a safer space for our women, our sisters, our mothers.”

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