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On The Road

Captivating Slide Presentation Capturing Sights from Niger to the Ganges

By Nathan Collins

Sangam Arts Initiative Presents:

“Lotuses for Osiris and Marigolds for Vishnu: A Photographic Portrait of Cultures from Niger, Nile to Ganges”

A Slide Show by Susanne GÄnsicke Wednesday, April 11, 6:30 p.m.

Room 6-120

Susanne GÄnsicke has roamed the streets of Timbuktu, travelled with Marco Polo, and seen at least a few of the wonders of the world. Now, she’d like to tell you about it.

In her capacity as Associate Objects Conservator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, GÄnsicke travelled through North Africa all the way to the Ganges River in India. She is an archaeologist and spends a fair amount of time around excavations. She is good at what she does, having received an Andrew Mellon Fellowship to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But she’s keenly aware that stories bring history alive and that photographs bring those stories even more alive.

The story begins inauspiciously on a bus somewhere in Mali. The bus stops in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, but men get off to walk home nonetheless. GÄnsicke says this emphasized a point -- the cultures she was about to be immersed in were travelling cultures.

The theme continues throughout the presentation. At various times we see men travelling slowly down rivers, or random strangers on a road to somewhere that looks, to American eyes, like nowhere. Throughout, GÄnsicke stops off to check out the not-often-seen sights: fantastic shrines that didn’t make the Seven Wonders of the World, and children running through the streets of a blue city, to name a few.

The photography in GÄnsicke’s presentation has some exciting moments. Her portraits of North African women and families show a side of the culture that can often be glossed over. GÄnsicke does not present African women in their colorful clothes simply for the sake of being exotic. In the handful of portraits, we see people as they are today on the ancient road. One portrait of a family reminded me of pictures my aunt takes, not of National Geographic-esque cover portraits.

One thing that really stands out in the photography is color, particularly in the photographs from India, where marigolds seem to adorn everything from people to bicycles to elephants. India is also the location of the blue city just mentioned. Even in the dryer, dustier climates of Mali, color is important. The yellows and browns are impressive against the sky, and there is nothing like a narrow passageway partially lit by the sun to make for great lighting.

Still, this is a presentation of a story, and while the photographs are at times quite lovely, the story and the photographs come together to make the experience complete. GÄnsicke’s presentation is a sophisticated and subtle bedtime story -- by themselves, the plots and the pictures are maybe not the stuff of greatness. Together, they lull us and surprise us and give us nice things to dream about. The image that stays with me best is of a man pushing a boat slowly upstream in the sun, surrounded by green plants and blue sky, going to somewhere that looks like nowhere.