“My images are like my characters. They are alive. Made of flesh and bones…”-Nehama
When I first caught wind of “Tales To Entertain The Dead: ‘Penis Witch and Lost Lovers‘” (Vol.1), it took me with immediacy. Following the trail of a peculiar title, I was blindsided with delight. The spirits of the supernatural brewed within the pages where poetic affectations of surrealism, collaged text, and photography breathed the cultural curiosities of Africa. This was a strange and fascinating book veiled in the dynamic language of French artist Nehama.
For over a decade, his work has captured and transcended the essence of black magic and its influence in the region. The ambitious volumed series was more than personal. In many aspects, it became autobiographical:
“I knew from the start that this was going to be a long journey.” he says, “Tales to Entertain the Dead has evolved over time. I tend to be more & more interested in the surrealism vibes inherent to the ‘World of spirits.’ Hence my collages etc. I was certain of what I didn’t want (the National Geographic Magazine treatment). I had to build my own archive and make sense of it all.”
NEHAMA©/Tales To Entertain The Dead Vol1.
Nehama’s tale comes from a love of Africa and its people. The motherland is a primary source of inspiration for the raconteur photographer. With affection, he details his connection to this spiritual place, “It has been love at first sight, juju love. I’ve been struck by lightning right away. I love everything about Africa. The energy is palpable & contagious. Poetry is not a luxury there, it is in the air. There is a special connection with elements, a vital force in people that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.”
The book’s wildly unexpected narrative swims beneath the surface with much of the same rich poetry he mentions. The accomplished photographer whose career began as a war reporter and copywriter reveals the mystery of an unfamiliar world through formal abstractions. His collaged text coils itself around images in theatrical fashion, illuminating the stage with pensive clarity and mirroring the mystic adverts impressed upon the region. The complimentary juxtaposition gives liberty to his process–a fresh perspective that evolved naturally. “I worked as a copywriter, screenwriter, etc., but there was something missing. Photography freed me and fed my need to roam. The coexistence of words and images is natural to me.”, he says.
The artist’s mix of mediums is masterfully delivered. He exhibits poetic prose with an unfiltered intensity rarely experienced while simultaneously exhuming the intimate vulnerability suggested in the stillness of his subjects by use of his camera. The soulful connection he makes with the natives of the region is evident–practically an essential part of his process:
“Someone once said that the photographer is taking and the artist is giving.” he says, “I’ve always aimed at being a giver. People sense if you’re real or not. But of course there is a vampire hidden inside each and every artist. Sometimes I went back a few times to some locations but mostly it’s about the connection you’re able to create with people.”
Dueling narratives play at the heart of “Tales To Entertain The Dead”— a story set in motion by Nehama’s curio-fascination with Africa’s influential advertisements toward mystic medicine and the discovery of a sacred bottle found off the coast of Kenya. He describes the bottle in a passage, “Inside it was a cobra snake holding a big black scorpio in its teeth with sacred roots & plants at the bottom.”
This was not just any bottle, but one that sent men running from the unholy spirits it contained, above all, what it represented: “Fatal Magic.”
Nehama’s view of this mystic bottle was anything but fearful, quite the opposite. Its beauty entranced him. He carried it with him wherever he went, and when a problem presented itself, he was sure to make use of its persuasion.
Mystic propaganda of witches and penis creams are the additional ingredient found in “Tales To Entertain The Dead” and brandished in good supply within the region. The provocatively stirring texture plays a role in minor keys as necessary to the book as the photos themselves: “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?”, “HELL IS FULL AND HEAVEN DOESN’T WANT YOU,” “CAN TALK TO THE DEAD,” “NIRVANA.“
The raw nature of the overt text spills across his compositions with narrative intention and fills the page with expressive cultural enlightenment.
Tolkien once said, “Time does not pass here: it just is.” The same could be said of Nehama’s purposeful delivery. A primal sense of timelessness carries each image throughout the book in an untethered space between neither here nor there. Only the essence is of any importance to the artist. “I’ve always wanted my work to look timeless. A will to add mystery to the mystery.” he says, “My images are like my characters. They are alive. Made of flesh and bones…” Each image stands firm and independently while consciously curating a collective story.
Following the first volume Tales To Entertain The Dead: “Penis Witch and Lost Lovers,” one can only imagine where the next book of this four-part series could lead his inquisitive audience. The looming question on the minds of those who bear witness to its spellbinding composition: When can we expect the next volume?
He replies, “Hopefully, very soon. I am still waiting a bit for the first volume is still breathing, although there are only very few copies left. Also, It has attracted the attention of a few publishers.”
A peculiar title led me to a book that captures the essence of the supernatural in a way no artist has before; its hook lives deep within the subconscious long after the invitation welcomes you. Above all, it begs the question: Do you believe in magic?