TO APRIL 8

Dagara shaman Malidoma Patrice Some once suggested that rites of passage are journeys of the spirit. In their 10 years of travel through Africa, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have experienced both. The photographers set out to make visual records of 43 customs in 26 countries, from birth and initiation rites to death rituals, many of them cultural practices that are slowly disappearing. But the colorful images bursting from the two large and heavy volumes of African Ceremonies, promise to be around for quite some time. Turning the books’ pages is like soaking up an intensely intimate course in history. Surma children from Ethiopia decorate their bodies with chalk and earth pigments. A Mauritanian woman’s hair is intricately plaited with talismans, shells, and pendants before she performs the guedra, a traditional dance of love. Members of the Nigerian emir’s cavalry, dressed in vibrant turbans and layered robes, sit high atop their horses, which are cloaked with equal meticulousness for the festival of Sallah. Members of the Poro, a secret society of the Senufo people of the Cote d’Ivoire, don eerie spirit masks to perform a funeral rite that keeps lingering spirits of the dead from disrupting their communities. The photographs are all dazzling. (A Wodaabe man preparing for the yaake charm dance is pictured.) Beckwith and Fisher’s accompanying text, however, proves that the photographers aren’t just shutter-happy, but are deeply involved in trying to understand the meanings behind the rituals they so skillfully capture. Their photographs are on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, to Saturday, April 8, at Govinda Gallery, 1227 34th St. NW. Free. (202) 333-1180. (Ayesha Morris)

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