These men have a very unusual relationship with their animals

Pieter Hugo - Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Nigeria 2005
Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo is one of South Africa’s most recognizable photographers most notably known today for his Hyena and Other Men series. Pieter has made a habit of photographing African landscapes and its marginalized people, so it does not come as a shock that his body of work consists of peculiar subjects such as albinos, the blind and even AIDS victims lying dead in their coffins. Pieter has never been afraid to push boundaries and it shows in his photographs. The end goal of many of his celebrated works has been to address the complex realities of race and identity issues in marginalized African societies through his photographs.

Case in point, Hugo’s the “The Hyena and Other Men” (2005-2007), which is by far one of his most talked about project was not planned and was serendipitous in many ways. It all started after Hugo received an email from a friend containing images of Nigeria’s Gadawan Kura, or hyena handlers in 2003. These hyena handlers were later to become the primary subjects of the “The Hyena and Other Men” series. As well as being displayed in numerous exhibitions from all over the world, the photographs of the Hyena Men have been converted and posted as memes all over the internet, appropriated by world-class performers such as Beyonce and been published into a now rare book.

It is easy to see why the Hyena Men from Nigeria garnered so much critical acclaim. The pictures were photographed during the Hamattan season, which helped to bring a dusty and raw quality to the photographs. The dusty quality was important in helping to highlight the staggering kinship between these beasts and the people that live comfortably around them. Because hyenas are typically not found communing with people side by side, it is almost impossible for anyone to look away at the trans-species relationship unfolding in what appears to be a community marginalized by poverty and rural life.

The photographs play a critical role in raising questions of how and to what extent animals and humans can live together. Although Hugo captured the images of the men and their hyenas during their moments off stage, it remained clear that the men were still performing in a sense, in complicity with the photography, while the hyenas remained tamed and chained. This helps to point out that although the men and hyenas communed together, it is still very evident that one species has more power over the other, a state that will most likely never change.

Pieter Hugo - Mallam galadima ahmadu with jamis, nigeria, 2005
Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005
Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005
Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Mallam Umaru Ahmadu with Amita, Nigeria 2005
Mallam Umaru Ahmadu with Amita, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Mohammed Rabiu with Jamis, Asaba, Nigeria 2007
Mohammed Rabiu with Jamis, Asaba, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Mohammed Rabiu with Jamis, Ibusa, Nigeria 2007
Mohammed Rabiu with Jamis, Ibusa, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Mora, Ajasco and handler, Lagos, Nigeria 2007
Mora, Ajasco and handler, Lagos, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Motorbike rider with Amiloo, Nigeria 2005
Motorbike rider with Amiloo, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Mummy Ahmadu and a snake charmer with a rock python, Abuja, Nigeria 2005
Mummy Ahmadu and a snake charmer with a rock python, Abuja, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Mummy Ahmadu and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Abuja, Nigeria 2005
Mummy Ahmadu and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Abuja, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Nura Garuba and friend with their monkey, Abuja, Nigeria 2005
Nura Garuba and friend with their monkey, Abuja, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Ahmadu with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005
Abdullahi Ahmadu with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria 2005, II
The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria 2005, II

Pieter Hugo - The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria 2005
The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Umoru Murtala with School Boy, Asaba, Nigeria, 2007
Umoru Murtala with School Boy, Asaba, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Umoru Murtala with School Boy, Asaba, Nigeria 2007
Umoru Murtala with School Boy, Asaba, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Ahmadu with Emeka, Ibusa, Nigeria 2007
Abdullahi Ahmadu with Emeka, Ibusa, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Ahmadu with Emeka, Ibusa, Nigeria 2007
Abdullahi Ahmadu with Emeka, Ibusa, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Galadima with the monkey Amiloo, Nigeria 2005
Abdullahi Galadima with the monkey Amiloo, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Mohammed with Gumu, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Abdullahi Mohammed with Gumu, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Lagos, Nigeria (smoking), 2007
Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Lagos, Nigeria (smoking) 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Lagos, Nigeria 2007
Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Lagos, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Lagos, Nigeria 2007
Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Lagos, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara. Ogere-Remo, Nigeria. 2007
Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara. Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abdullahi Mohammed with wild dog and antelope carcass, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Abdullahi Mohammed with wild dog and antelope carcass, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Abu Kikan with Ajasco, Asaba, Nigeria 2007
Abu Kikan with Ajasco, Asaba, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Alhaji Hassan with Ajasco, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Alhaji Hassan with Ajasco, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Amiloo and Clear, Abuja, Nigeria 2005
Amiloo and Clear, Abuja, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Animal handler with Ajasco, Lagos, Nigeria 2007
Animal handler with Ajasco, Lagos, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Dambe fighter, Kano, Nigeria 2005
Dambe fighter, Kano, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Dayaba Usman with the monkey Clear, Nigeria 2005
Dayaba Usman with the monkey Clear, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Emeka, motorcyclist and Abdullahi Ahmadu, Asaba, Nigeria 2007
Emeka, motorcyclist and Abdullahi Ahmadu, Asaba, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Garuba Yaku with Rando, Nigeria 2005
Garuba Yaku with Rando, Nigeria 2005

Pieter Hugo - Garuba Yawu with Mora, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Garuba Yawu with Mora, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Handler with School Boy, Lagos, Nigeria 2007
Handler with School Boy, Lagos, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Jatto with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Jatto with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Jatto with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Jatto with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Jatto with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007
Jatto with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007

Pieter Hugo - Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005 II
Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis and Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Nigeria 2005 II

Pieter Hugo - Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Abuja, Nigeria 2007
Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Abuja, Nigeria 2007

 

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