“Shared stories bring people together,” says Sophie Green who, over the course of two years, photographed the Aladura Spiritualist African congregations of Southwark in south-east London. Also known as “White Garment” churches, Aladura is a denomination of Christianity predominantly practised by Yoruba Nigerians. Even though the faith has become synonymous with parts of London – Southwark holding the highest concentration of African churches outside the continent – it has been rarely documented. Curious about what glues individuals together as a community, Green asked a passing congregation member if she could accompany her that Sunday. On invitation, the photographer proceeded to “watch the seven-hour service in awe.” “There is a joy and energy in these congregations that I have never witnessed before,” Green explains. “The services are collaborative, and there is a freedom for people to express themselves and their cultural roots.” Such powerful unification over a belief, and the moving shared experience, triggered Green’s desire to document what she had witnessed. As well as honouring faith, these services are a way for the community to …
“South Africa is a deeply religious country,” says Giya Makondo-Wills, whose work-in-progress, They Came From the Water While the World Watched, maps out the interplay between Christianity and ancestral religion in the region. With four trips to the country under her belt so far, the 23-year old has travelled as much into the past as in the present, tracing the indelible repercussions of 19th-century European migration as they resonate through South African culture today.
Makondo-Wills, who is British-South African, became interested in her African grandmother’s faith while shooting another project. “She’s very Orthodox Christian but she also still practises ancestral religion, and that’s a core part of who she is. She prays to a God and the gods,” the photographer explains.
This duality got her thinking about the intersections of belief systems and how they were brought into contact. How did Christianity become so influential? How does it co-exist with indigenous religions? Building on her interests in race and identity, these questions soon elicited many others, spawning a long-term project that has carried her from a BA to an MA at the University of South Wales.