A York College student stops by the art gallery to view Kama’s photographer. Photos Courtesy of York College.
BY RODNEY D. GANTT
Utilizing all that she has learned, a York College alum tells the family story of her father’s forgotten kingdom through photography, sharing the culture of her unique ancestry in the solo exhibition, “The Eye of Owerre-Olubor.”
On display at York’s Fine Arts Gallery, the exhibit, which runs through the end of this week, featured the work of Photographer Nachaiya “Nacha” Kama and is part of a much larger and ongoing project. Started in 2014, Kama’s project is focused on the life of Ezinna Ngaboso Onwumena, Kama’s grandfather, and “Ogwude,” or King of the Owerre-Olubor Kingdo. Her gallery depicts the lifestyle and culture of those living in the village in the Delta State of Nigeria.
“I want Owerre-Olubor to be put on the map,” said Kama. “Owerre-Olubor is a kingdom that is not really recognized like Asaba [capital of the Delta State of Nigeria]. There are things that need to be done and I believe that through these photos, Owerre-Olubor will be known.”
Kama began the project shortly after her grandfather’s coronation and spent the last three years working on the project while living in Lagos and traveling to Owerre-Olubor. She returned in 2016 after her grandfather died to continue her work. As princess and member of the royal family, Kama was granted unique access to the village and able to meet with and photograph the people in their everyday lives.
“The people there, they were so nice,” Kama said. “They welcomed me and it was great. Going around and taking photos, I found joy in visiting people. Some neighbors and I came out of this with a lot of great photos.”
The majority of Kama’s photos were of the Umunofo quarter where her grandfather was from. The carefully selected photos gave an in-depth sense of the culture and lifestyle of farmers, petty traders, blacksmiths and others who live there. Some of the photos featured in the exhibit included images of local workers, clothes being laid out to dry on the front lawn and shoppers at the market.
There were also photos from the day of Kama’s grandfather’s funeral. In one photo, titled “Royals of the Kingdom: The Walk to the Grave,” members of the royal family, including the king’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, are shown walking, dressed in white, with one woman holding his framed photo.
One photo Kama said stood out to her was of six young boys smiling that was appropriately titled “Six Boys.”
“It’s just six happy boys playing and it just gives you joy when you see the photo, there’s something amazing about it,” said Kama.
While working on the project, Kama said she was happy returning to a place she had not visited in a long time and emphasized the importance of connecting with one’s heritage.
“It was good for me to go to my homeland and see where my mother lived and to see what home was like, not as a story that is being told, but something that you are seeing for yourself,” said Kama. “It’s great to know your roots and where you come from.”
Prior to having her solo exhibition, Kama took part in a group exhibition at York in September 2016 titled “Catching Up.” The exhibition featured the artistic works of several alumni. Kama showcased four photos from her ongoing project that caught the attention of York’s provost, Panayiotis Meleties, who suggested to the chairwoman of the Performing and Fine Arts department, Margaret Vendryes, that Kama’s work should be presented as a solo exhibition for Black History Month.
“I think he was really drawn to her imagery,” Vendryes, who is also director of the gallery, told the PRESS of Southeast Queens. “He felt that she could fill the room in a way that was really engaging for our students.”
Looking at all the photos, Vendryes described it as a very “pointed” exhibition and emphasized the importance having such an exhibit on display during Black History Month.
“I think it is a reminder that the connection between who African Americans are and who Africans are can never be severed, that we are always part of a past that is important,” Vendryes said. “The whole idea of being African American comes from our connection to that continent and through slavery that brought us here. That legacy of a past that is still rich and full of traditions and color and life should be recognized and her photos do that.”
At a reception held on Feb. 21, many of the faculty agreed that the selected images on display told a story.
“They have a cohesive feel and a narrative, they sort of tell the story of what this location is like,” said Sally Boon-Matthews, adjunct professor in the Fine Arts department and Kama’s former photography instructor.
“It’s all centered on Nacha’s grandfather and her wanting to get in touch with her paternal grandfather and, in doing so, she sort of re-discovered part of her own family,” said Boon-Matthews. “Often, art can have a very therapeutic effect and can help you understand more about your identity and heritage.
Continuing with the project, Kama plans to return to Owerre-Olubor and photograph the other four quarters. She is also developing her own website.