Warm Heart of Africa

Noor Jehan Mecklai on a recent exhibition of photography at V.M. Gallery, Karachi

Warm Heart of Africa
When an elderly couple in Sost, Upper Hunza, having seen her photographic show in a nearby village, offered to be Laurence Savary’s adoptive parents, she could not find it in her heart to refuse. She is a French photographer based in South Africa, but has been to Pakistan six times and to Malawi three times. Her recent exhibition of Malawi photographs at Karachi’s V.M. Gallery delighted viewers. She is now preparing to move the whole exhibition - 40 photographs – to the village of Gulmit in Upper Hunza. It would be quite a feat. But perhaps some of the animals of Malawi – for example crocodiles, hippopotami, deer, monkeys and African fish eagles – will lend a hand, or a foot, in this mammoth task.

Savary regrets that she has not been able to arrange an exhibition on Pakistan in South Africa, due to the reluctance of resident Pakistanis to come forward to support their country.
Laurence’s initial interest was in the botanical life on the Nyika Plateau

“What I would like to do,” she says, “is what reflects on the whole of Pakistan. It’s in my heart. If I have the beauty, I just can’t keep it to myself.” This desire to share beauty is also a factor in her exhibition on Malawi.

Malawi is a tiny, landlocked country wedged between Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. The Great Rift Valley runs through the country lengthwise, and Lake Malawi - the jewel in the crown of this country - lies to one side of it, covering most of the country’s eastern border. It is the southernmost lake in the East African Rift system, the 9th largest lake in the world by area and 4th largest by volume. With its deepest point at 706 metres, it is 560 km long, 75 km wide, and is part of the same system as Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake Edward and others. Estimated to be one to two million years old, it was formed by the opening of the East African Rift, where the African tectonic plate is split in two. Incredibly, it was originally a saltwater lake, but being fed by so many freshwater rivers for so long, it  became a freshwater body.

'Net Surfer'

“My initial curiosity was concerning botany on the rift plateau, but then I discovered life in the lake, savannah animals on the Nyika Plateau, the missionary architecture and the warm hospitality of Malawian families and Christian communities around the Cape,” she explains. Due to this combination of qualities, plus its mountains, game parks and forests, Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa.”

Unfortunately, due to the increase of human population, the water level in the lake is slowly falling. But it is home to 700 species - by some accounts over 850 species of fish called chichlids, 2’ 6’’ long, and in an amazing variety of colours - for example, black and white, pure white, gold, blue, blue and pink, orange, etc. So containing this superabundance of a population, we may expect that Lake Malawi will provide plentiful food for human and animal over several millennia.

'Fragrance of Bracelets I Wear in Pakistan'

The picture titled “Net Surfer” shows not only the vitality, friendliness and strength of the man, with his sturdy little boat behind him, and his colourful tangle of nets in the foreground, but also the unruffled deep blue of the lake, stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see. The sky, too, is blue, while the bank of cloud on the horizon enhances the depth of field, which is an important point in photography.

However, in the captivating “One Nature for All,” the water reflects the pale grey sky, and interestingly the picture shows several layers of existence, from the shiny, wet hippos in the water to the deer, grazing on the shore or staring at the photographer, to the wading birds. This whole population is backed by a luxuriant line of flowers, and finally a valiant stand of trees. Laurence has captured an interesting combination of landscape and wildlife.


But what is under the water? “Algae Grazing Feast” presents a number of fish enjoying such a feast in green water, while their own colours are influenced by the green around them. Considering the predominant blue of the water above, this comes as a surprise. But Lake Malawi is a meromictic lake, meaning that its various layers of water - three to be precise - do not mix.

“On Top of Nyika Plateau” gives us a view of two zebras backed by the dark colours of an agricultural field, while far in the background is the peaceful blue, mauve and grey of the plateau top itself, under a cloudy blue sky. In the foreground, well camouflaged by the long grass is a small deer. Is it curiosity that draws them together? Is it familiarity? Mind you, it is not uncommon to see animals of a larger species looking after smaller animals - even amongst the big cats. However, the artist has not presented pictures of these kings of the animal world. In any case, lions in particular are now extinct in 26 African countries, though Malawi has become a bright spot in the efforts to conserve the species. Meanwhile, “Nyika Landscape” presents a palette of beautiful mellow colours, some in several shades. The main focus is on a heavenly blue mountain with smooth lines and gullies, while the distant clouds add interest. The area appears to be part desert, part vegetation.

As aforementioned, Laurence’s initial interest was in the botanical life on the Nyika Plateau. Therefore she has photographed several species of flowers, but her most beautiful flower picture is of a small temple flower tree beside the lake, titled “Fragrance of bracelets” Naturally the beauty of the fragrant white flowers is enhanced by the slender black branches, the whole being well set off by the blueness of the lake and the matching blue sky above, while the large stones surrounding the tree set off its delicate beauty.

We are fortunate indeed to be able to share the beauty of Malawi presented by this able photographer.