A compelling new exhibition in London by photographer Matthew Joseph reveals an overlooked reality faced by over 1.6million Ethiopians.
On show at Gallery@Oxo in London, it will feature a series of intimate portraits that aim to raise awareness of Podoconiosis (Podo), the silent tragedy his subjects share, hidden behind their powerful and tenacious expressions.
Matthew travelled to Ethiopia to help document the story of the widespread skin disease barely known or understood outside the African continent, whilst communicating the simple solutions needed to eradicate this disease in our lifetime, in Ethiopia and beyond.
Stigmatised because of their appearance, those with Podo are often ostracised from their families and communities. For this reason, Matthew’s facial portraits are shown side-by-side with photographs of their affected legs and feet. This juxtaposition of images is unsettling – one would never associate the often beautiful, human faces of those with Podo with their legs and feet. At the same time, the imagery restores human dignity to those caught in the cycle of Podo disease – something at the centre of Matthew’s motivation.
Podo results from prolonged exposure of bare feet to specific types of fertile volcanic soil, such as that found in the highlands of Ethiopia, several other African countries, India and Central America. If left untreated, elephantiasis ensues, where the lower legs and feet swell grotesquely, causing profound disability, disfigurement and social stigma.
Remarkably, the disease is both entirely preventable and easily treatable through the use of appropriate footwear and a simple daily hygiene routine consisting of common household items, namely soap, water and petroleum jelly.
The exhibition, in conjunction with Action on Podo, sheds light on the significant impact the charity is making, working directly with health centres (to treat over 3,000 patients since 2012) and empowering local communities through preventive education and establishing shoe workshops (to make over 4,500 oversize shoes for Podo patients). People are returned daily to family, community and workforce.
Action on Podo is constantly looking for support and partners to further its work, and donations can be made via www.actiononpodo.com.
PODO: A Portrait Series by Matthew Joseph will go on display during a two-week exhibition at Gallery@Oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf in London from 24 April 2019.