Journey through West Africa

These photographs were taken in the late 1950s when Bridget and two American architects were on an extended trip to West Africa. She first completed a comission by the architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew to photograph the buildings at the newly finished Ibaden University in Nigeria.

Bridget and her companions then travelled in a Volkswagen Beetle up through Northern Nigeria to Niamay, Gazo, Mopti and on to the Dogon village on the top of the escarpment of Bandiagara. The return journey to Accra was made via Bamako and Abidjan.

The Hausa decorated buildings were mainly found in Zaria, Northern Nigeria and the Dogan building at Bandiagara in Mali. The Mosques were situated between the two in Haute Volta and Mali.

The images shown here are part of a much larger body of work which will be available to view on the website this year.

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In 1975 the Arts Council of Great Britain produced a traveling exhibition titled 'African Shelter' with Bevington’s photographs of the decorated houses, Dogon buildings and mosques playing a prominent role. Written and conceived by Paul Oliver and designer by Alan Stewart many of the words below were taken from the exhibition captions.

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Decorated Houses, Zaria

These photographs show some of the finest examples of decorated houses on the streets of Zaria from the 1950s.

The patterns were determined by the owner or the imagination of the builder to reflect the personality, status and aspirations of the house-owner.

The most expensive style of house was to have the designs embossed - fashioned using katsibased mud mixed with grass (eg. Image 1 & 5.) Whereas the cheaper decorated house style was to have patterns cut into damp concrete or mud blocks. The flower motif, coloured in pastel blues and pinks, was in particular popular for this design (eg. 6 & 11.)

Many of the decorative symbols came from Islam, such as the recurrent design the Northern Knot or Dagi - which represents the complexity of the self and the binding of relationships (eg. 10 shown above the doorway). Other house walls also showed images such as the satchel for carrying the Koran.

It was not until the 1940s that realistic images such as bicycles, aeroplanes, guns, ball and raquet and swords were accepted and then became popular (eg.1 & 3). One owner for example chose to have three famous boxers fighting with their names in Arabiac (4), demonstrating the athletic interests of the owner. Having ones name inscribed on the house was also popular ( 5 - in Arabic and Roman script).

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Dogon Buildings

These images were taken in the Bandiagara escarpment in Mali - at the top of escarpment in the village Ogul (eg. Image 1 with baobab tree) and Lower Ogul (eg. 20 & 21) in the 1950s.

Dogon houses were built out of mud - constructed to have curved surfaces so as to give added strength to the structures as well as a a beautiful sculptural form.

Traditional and simple house-holds - Ginu sala - generally include an enclosure, with stalls for animals, granaries (11.), a courtyard, and the dwelling itself (4.). The granaries are predominantly elevated to stop rats getting in.

Doors to the houses often have a design that requires inserting the hand, arm and key through a hole in the wall to operate the latch (duro kuno) from the inside(6.)

To channel water from the roof they carved gullys. Their ladders are pole ladders with ratchet shaped notching that have been carved from one piece of wood (7)

A Ginna - an elders house - is made of timber and mud (3 & 13). The upper door is to a granary where the ancestral shrine is placed and the niches - called ‘swallows nests’ - often contain offerings to the ancestors.

A Toguna (12) is a meeting place and gathering for elders to discuss and settle local issues. The thick thatching of milley stalks provides insulation against the heat of the day when the assemblies take place.

Shrines within the Dogon village (9 & 10) are constructed of banco (beaten clay). Phallic symbols are placed on the outside to emphasise fertility. All Dogon homestead designs whilst resulting from the practical also have a strong traditional frame of symbolic anthropomorphic reference.

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Islamic Mosques

These images of Islamic Mosques were taken on the way to the Bandiagari escarpment including The Great Mosque in Djenne (1) - the largest mud brick building in the world and one of the most famous landmarks in Africa. Every year the mosques exterior has to be replastered with a mixture of fine river clay and shea butter amongst other materials, it is an important part of Ramandan festival, the whole city contributing to this endeavour.

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Local Kids/Ife Heads

Bevington took these images of local children as they crowded around her car to say hello early on in the trip. On the same roll of film Bevington became fascinated by the Ife heads that she came across in a museum in Ife, Nigeria, constructed by the lost wax method. Interestingly the way she has framed only the heads and shoulders of the children - in profile and head on - echos the photographs she took of the Ife heads on their plinths straight afterwards.

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Maxwell Fry Architecture, Ibaden

These images were taken of the University of Ibaden designed by Maxwell Fry - the English modernist architect - in partnership with his wife and also architect Jane Drew. They designed buildings in West Africa throughout the 1940s. The University of Ibaden is considered by many to be Fry's most notable work in West Africa.