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On the Job in Abomey: Portraits of Working People in Benin

Despite differences in geography, history, and culture, the nature of work is a shared experience. A photographic documentation of life and traditions in Benin, West Africa is the focus of a new exhibit at the MSU Museum.

On the Job in Abomey: Portraits of Working People in Benin features the photographs of Darcy Drew Greene, MSU School of Journalism Associate Professor Emeritus. The exhibit runs from August 13, 2018 – April 30, 2019 in the Heritage Gallery at the MSU Museum, with a reception Saturday, September 22, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., and gallery talk with Darcy Greene at 11:30 a.m.

Greene says, “I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin from 1969 to 1971. Since then I have returned twice. On each occasion I spent a month in and around the town of Abomey. During my last visit in 2016, my goal was to interact with local people to discuss what they did to make a living and how they felt about it. On the Job in Abomey: Portraits of Working People in Benin is a reflection of what I discovered.”

Among the more than 40 individuals interviewed and photographed by Greene were an electrician, a carpenter, a school teacher, a natural healer and a veterinarian. The exhibit shares the stories of the workers and some of the products of their work. For instance, along-side the portrait of textile worker Jean Jacques Yèmadjè is a tapestry made by him. Other artifacts on view include an ancestral altar, ceremonial pottery, wood carvings and fabrics.

“Darcy Greene’s marvelous images highlight what economic anthropologists term the ‘informal sector,’ the great range of ways through which people around the world make a living ‘off the books,’” remarks MSU Museum Director Mark Auslander. “Her pictures emphasize the dignity of labor and the creative aesthetics of everyday life, even under remarkably trying circumstances. The Museum is proud to showcase this celebration of work, which links us to our friends in Abomey and, by extension, to ordinary working people the world over.”

This exhibition is part of Michigan State University’s Year of Global Africa. This 18-month celebration highlights MSU’s rich history of connection with our many partners across Africa and throughout the African Diaspora. Visit the Year of Global Africa website at http://globalafrica.isp.msu.edu .

Support from the Michigan State University Humanities and Arts Research Program (HARP) Production Grant made this exhibit possible.

Heritage Gallery

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