I am Walé, Respect Me
I dove deeply here into an initiation ritual and aimed to create an artistic and documentary photography, very close to the daily experience of Ekonda pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ekondas believe that the most important moment in the life of a woman is the birth of her first child. The young mother, is called Walé (‘primiparous nursing mother’). She returns to her parents where she remains secluded for a period of 2 to 5 years. By strictly respecting several taboos during this whole period, including a taboo on sex, she is given a status similar to that of a patriarch. The end of her seclusion is marked by a dancing and singing ritual. The choreography and the songs have a very codified structure but are unique creations specific to each Walé. I have always been fascinated by native tribes because I feel they have a wealth that we have somehow lost. To document this beautiful tribute to motherhood, fertility and femininity, I proposed to some Walés, whom I’ve known for over a year, to participate in staged photographs that bear witness to a part of their personal history. Each set-up worked as a visual representation of one of the subjects that the Walé would sing about on the day of her release from seclusion.
Born in 1969 in Strasbourg, France Lives and works in Hong Kong and Kinshasa Patrick Willocq is a self-taught photographer for 25 years. He has lived 32 years outside France, including 7 years in DR Congo. The series On the road from Bikoro to Bokonda, won the 2012 AFD best photo project Award and exhibited in over 10 international festivals including Paris Photo 2012 (Finalist SFR Competition) and Photo Off (Paris) 2013. Other photographic works include The 4 Seasons in Shanghai, exhibited at the European Festival of Nude Photography in Arles, Walé O Konga I, exhibited at Portrait(s) (Vichy). With I am Walé Respect Me, a series about an initiation ritual among Ekonda pygmies, Patrick Willocq has been selected to form part of the British Journal of Photography « the Ones to watch in 2014 ». He is a finalist of the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2013, finalist of Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2014 and he has been nominated to the prestigious Arles Discovery Award 2014.