The Omo Valley has been populated for generations by semi-nomadic tribes steeped in timeworn traditions of beauty and survival, which are practiced with rigor and sacrifice.
Ethiopia’s sun-baked Omo Valley, an area recognized by scientists as the cradle of humankind, is home to a rich variety of semi-nomadic ethnic groups. Diverse in many respects but linked by their shared migration paths, these groups lead a way of life that is both colorful and austere. Herdsmen and their families keep cattle as they have for centuries, consuming just enough food to sustain themselves and sometimes enduring months of drought.
More than merely surviving in this unforgiving landscape, each group has stamped a richly unique identity onto it. This is a place of vibrant, age-old traditions. Elaborate communal rituals mark an adolescent’s passage into adulthood, and men and women alike ornament their bodies in strikingly beautiful ways. Bracelets, necklaces, and headdresses are treasured and worn with unabashed flair. Moreover, beautification practices are encouraged as a way for an individual to establish his or her identity within the community. Scarring one’s arms or chest is a celebrated form of expression; men paint each other’s bodies for display and battle; rather than disapprove of a daughter’s lip piercing, a Suri mother is more likely to do it herself.
Physical attractiveness is held in extremely high regard. While its body-decorating methods are breathtakingly unique, Omo culture overlaps with classical ideals of beauty in its appreciation of the human form. By inviting comparisons with contemporary fashion imagery, Omo documents Doggett’s perspective on this shared aesthetic sensibility by highlighting form, style, and composition in an attempt to capture an idea of beauty that speaks not just to southern Ethiopia but to humanity at large.
Advancing technology, agricultural expansion, and other realities of globalization have reached the tribes of the Omo Valley and begun to alter their way of life. In exploring this area’s remarkable heritage, Omo: Expressions of a People aims to help viewers gain a new respect for the extraordinary diversity and precarious fate of traditional cultures around the world.