black and white image of a group of people in a field

The Cult of Souls

black and white image of a group of Bedouins on horseback in the desert.

Featuring: Fethi Sahraoui / Collective220

Presented by:

United Photo Industries EMERGI-CUBE Program

 

Curated by:
James Estrin and David Gonzalez, Co-Editors of the New York Times Lens Blog

 

Rural celebrations are seasonal festivals organized by the local people in different regions of Algeria to celebrate Muslim saints. The local name for a rural celebration is waada, derived from the word for promise; a promise made by the local villagers to celebrate their devotion. These celebrations are more frequent in the western part of the country, and they usually coincide with autumn, the season of grape harvesting. Villagers that have good harvests are expected to share their bounty, believing it will bring another successful year, and that through giving, they become more like the Creator by providing for others.

The preparations for a festival start early in the morning with the installation of tents. Waves of curious people start flooding in after al Asr prayers In the afternoon. Fantastic shows by synchronized race horses end with ceremonial guns fired by cavaliers, once all the horses cross the finish line. Guesba music bands are omnipresent, with lyrics about love, betrayal, and adultery. They sing about the concerns of rural life and what makes it different from city life. The singers constantly mock the lifestyle of the people from the city. You also find excitement in the Hamdawa groups, a religious sect who perform their dances to the beats of bendirs, encircled by a crowd of followers.

As a child, I grew up attending rural celebrations with my family. I remember the festive atmosphere, the sounds of the music, and the dancing. When I started photography, these festivals were one of the first subjects that I documented. After many years of attending the festivals, I photographed the many events. These rural celebrations became my imaginary circus, my alternative world.

Rural celebrations are a social phenomenon established to seek the grace and benediction of God, hoping for a beneficial harvest season. Over time, it has become a complete system of entertainment, compensating for the shortage of places dedicated to fulfilling recreation. Here you may find something that is joyous, strange, and saddening at the same time and place. This is life’s circus.

Make sure to also check out related EMERGI-CUBES Walking Tour with James Estrin.

ARTIST BIO

Born in 1993, Fethi Sahraoui is an Algerian, self-taught documentary photographer, working locally and looking at the social landscape since completing his studies in foreign languages at University in Mascara, his hometown. He graduated last year with a final thesis based on the contribution of African American photographers during the Civil Rights Movement.

Fethi’s work was shown in different institutions like the Arab World Institute in Paris, and published on different platforms like The New York Times. He is a member of the Collective220, a family of five photographers who are based in different parts of Algeria and collaborate on a variety of projects together.

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