Letters From Madagascar
In his first solo exhibition Dwight O. Campbell takes us on a journey to Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of East Africa, marred by more than six decades of European colonization. Through images and letters transcribed by Malagasy writer Kembamino Mahadimby, Campbell sheds light on the lingering effects of French rule and the irrepressible spirit of the people, exhibiting the complexity and simplicity of sovereign island life.
Campbell, who has spent the last ten years working behind a different kind of lens, has credits for working behind the camera on multiple Hollywood blockbusters. In Letters from Madagascar he marries his appreciation for storytelling with his cinimatic documentary style, to tell tales of pride and pessimism, love and loss, fair and foul, in a remarkable show of resilience against overwhelming odds.
The show features a fly-on-the-wall series of video clips recorded across the island, fluently woven into a short film by Campbell. And a supporting creative essay and poems by London-based writer Savraj Kaur.
Dwight O. Campbell’s Letters from Madagascar launched in celebration at Facet Gallery, Atlanta GA on November 11, 2017. The exhibition furnished two floors with telling stories: walls and pillars embracing a series of striking images, telling letters, and a mezzanine balcony overlooking a poignant floor piece depicting a lone Malagasy girl, distraught, on a roadside. Early on, we read that this is the first public exhibition for Campbell, whose professional experience has been honed working behind the camera for multiple box-office successes; this didn’t prepare us for the remarkable narrative we would be given.
Colorful portraits welcomed us to perceive the Malagasy as they would see themselves every day: as young and old, rich and poor, dreamers and cynics. Displayed together with an abundance of translated letters - captivating mini-sagas in their own right - the latter added layers of contrast, opening us up to connect with a vast array of islanders through their own voices. Through the evening, it was not uncommon to find guest after guest, unyieldingly still, connecting with colors, eyes, and words that Campbell brought back with him.
A halfway point offered the three-panel essay Uncommon Senses, as a story within the story, based on real-life experiences of London-based writer Savraj Kaur. It invited us to consider our place in the gallery and beyond, and how much are we present in the lives of those we haven’t met in the world - a jolting take on coexistence.
One of the biggest draws of the show was Campbell’s short observational documentary ON MY iPhone, his point of view style summoning pause and excitement in a packed out room. Harmonized by passionate contributions by the audience, the work offered an uninterrupted view of Madagascar and its array of people. A message of diversity and unity was enhanced on the evening with an interactive performance by percussionist Yemi Conga, who wooed the crowd to echo African drum renditions. For now, there is preparation underway for a Letters from Madagascar Exhibition and Book Launch Tour in Spring-Summer 2018. Events will be announced on the website. Special thanks to everyone who attended the show, and to our generous sponsor Professional Photo Resources, Inc. Atlanta.
Images capture the essence of the Malagasy people today, three quarters of whom live in poverty. The series features sweeping dichotomies of of everyday activities on the island, including features on the sacred Famadihana exhumation ceremony and the colonial-built Fianarantsoa-Côte Est railway.
Letters capture voices of a multitude of islanders, laying bare a complex society. They embrace frank dialogues of love and loss, stories of complex joys in hardship, and pride and pessimism amongst the most privileged.