A World of Its Own


Many recognize the Omo Valley as the birthplace of mankind. Explore this remote Ethiopian location’s distinct & celebrated traditions through Drew’s images.

Drew’s 2011 series, Omo: Expressions of a People, presents images of the residents of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, often using the conventions of fashion photography. By using these references, Drew’s work adds a familiarity to the images – and to the practices – entirely unique to this area.

Omo: Expressions of a People celebrates the global appeal of personalized self-expression through clothing, jewelry, ritual, and decoration by capturing each subject exuding the confidence felt in their natural surroundings and dress. While some traditions are unfamiliar to the Western world, the interest in individual expression is universal, and this series celebrates this appeal. Below are several images exhibiting the range of expression in the Omo Valley:

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The artful application of body paint is both aesthetic and functional; it is meant to intimidate enemies and attract women. It is typically done as a communal creative process among Suri men. The lines here purposefully mirror the curves of the human body to both embellish and enhance the leg.

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Traditional headdresses are incredibly labor-intensive to make, like the one featured here on a Dhassanac man. Multiple coatings of clay and water are applied, each needing ample time to dry, while indigo paint and an ostrich feather, a symbol of purity, serve as the final touches. While this elaborate headdress may seem decorative, it is also functional since it protects the wearer against skin and hair parasites.

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This image features a Suri woman whose chest is adorned with body scarification, a permanent beautifying technique once widely practiced. To do this, the skin is cut with a sharp object like a blade or acacia thorn so that it heals as a raised scar. The patterns are ornate and beautiful, and the process is deliberately slow in order to build immunity and reduce the risk of future infection.

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Featured here is a Suri woman with a lip plate, one of the tribe’s most celebrated and distinctive traditions. During the Zigroo, or piercing ceremony, two lower teeth are removed and an incision is made in the bottom lip. As each plate stretches the lip, it is replaced by a larger one, which increases a potential bride’s worth in cattle.


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