How does one begin to talk about something as controversial as female genital mutilation without stirring up unwanted, complicated, emotions? Who is allowed to tell what stories? Is it okay for a man to tell this story? These are important questions in the back of my mind that surface often as I choose what work to highlight here.
I had to ask myself these questions when looking at Pradip Malde’s book “From Where Loss Comes,” (Charcoal Press, 2022), a powerful exploration of female genital mutilation. Malde’s work is an important contribution to the dialogue about this controversial and abhorrent tradition.
There is always bound to be a person, or people, unhappy with the way a subject is explored, especially when it’s something as controversial and personal as female genital mutilation. In Malde’s case, the work is, first and foremost, sensitive and respectful. And it is accompanied by multiple texts by authorities giving their stamp of approval — not to mention the cooperation of the people who appear in the photographs.
Dr. Linda Mayes, the Arnold Gesell Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology and Director of the Yale Child Study Center, says: “ ‘From Where Loss Comes’ asks us to hold in the same visual space love and violence, sacrifice and gain, mutilation and beauty, personal loss and community belonging. In a deeply sensitive, sobering collection of photographs, Malde captures the humanity contained in a fundamentally inhumane practice and compels viewers to linger with their own self-reflection of how they may bring hurt even as they care.”
Meg Partridge, Director of the Imogen Cunningham Trust, says: “In this book of insightful portraits, Pradip Malde captures the viewer’s attention with their photographic beauty while taking a deeper look into one of humanity’s darkest practices. The perception and compassion of Malde’s eye is palpable.”
The book itself is immaculately produced. It is utterly gorgeous. This speaks to the intent behind the image making and eventual transformation into book form. The attention to detail in all aspects of the book’s production is informed by sensitivity and even reverence toward the people documented.
Malde made the work after returning to his home country of Tanzania after an extended absence. Back home, he partnered with Sarah Mwaga, founder of the Anti Female Genital Mutilation Network. Together, they traveled 3,000 miles over three years. They visited remote communities where they spoke with, and photographed, female activists who were victims of the practice of genital mutilation.
Malde photographed not only these women, but also the sacred sites where the rituals took place, along with the cutting tools that the circumcisers used. It is important to note that the people Malde photographed have renounced the practice.
Unfortunately, Mwaga passed away before the book’s publication and it is dedicated to her. It is a searing, powerful, reverent, exploration of this deplorable practice. Malde was able to do the work only because of the help from Mwaga and the people he photographed. In addition, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018 that helped him complete the project.
The rituals we put ourselves through to fit in in the world vary widely from country to country. Some, like female genital mutilation are physically scarring and painful. We seem to like to debase ourselves. It is part of human nature. Racism, sexism, ableism, nationalism.
Different people have different expectations, and we concoct various ways to make that true. The result? Massive inequality, war, famine, death, destruction. Nothing good comes of it. The world is not fair. Malde’s photos are a sharp reminder.
You can find out more about the book, and buy it, here.