M+B is pleased to announce the exhibition “My Shadow, My Opponent,” color photographs by thirty-two year old artist Jehad Nga. Acclaimed for his deeply felt chronicles of people enduring war, poverty and violence in Africa and Iraq, he here turns his attention to men who train for the Kibera Olympic Boxing team in Kenya. With remarkable sensitivity, he captures their intensity, hopefulness and resilience, creating unforgettable portraits by finding the most dramatic light and recognizing the telling moment.
Just shooting these photographs took tremendous ingenuity. Kibera, the world’s largest slum, poses incredible obstacles for outsiders. Though Nga lives in nearby Nairobi, which he uses as a base to cover Somalia, he wasn’t sure how to tackle a place with so many rich stories describing it “as a monster few have been able to win over.” But boxing offered him a way in. He liked that it was not a team sport, but one that pitched only one man against another, and he also liked its lonesome element. He was after the moments of rest not violence, finding something meditative beneath the mania. Consequently, many of his photos show the men simply with the heads bowed or their hands wrapped in cloth to protect their knuckles.
Along with their poetic humanity, Nga’s photographs are most distinctive for their lighting. His subjects appear in half-light or in the shadows, with their bodies and faces never fully revealed. Lighting dictates the direction his photos take. “I like the arrangement that comes about when I have only one light source and various subjects that I need to need to shoot,” he says. “The lightning's direction cannot be altered so I have to stand by and either wait for it to be where it is needed or for the circumstances to shift to my advantage.”
Nga does not keep a distance between himself and his subjects. He realized that these men boxed to escape and defend themselves the misery of Kibera, the joblessness, violence, crime and overwhelming futility. Walking around with them, he saw that the community held them in great respect. “People invest a lot of hope in them,” he said. “If they succeed, they take a bit of everyone with them to better places. They recognize that and so do the people.” Knowing that they only have two pairs of gloves for the 30 of them, he was planning on returning to provide them with more equipment.
Over recent years, Nga has covered Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Darfur, Ethiopia and Iran, providing stories for numerous major publications like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Time, Fortune and Forbes magazines. He has also won several honors, most recently, being selected for American Photo magazine's Emerging Artists 2007 issue and for World Press Master Class 2008. He also earned Picture of the Year International Award in 2005 and 2006 for coverage of the war in Darfur, the Chad refugee crisis and Operation Steel in Iraq. The Chinese International Press Photographers awarded him first, second and third places for his coverage of Uganda, Chad and Darfur, and Photo District News named him to its “Top 30 Under 30” in 2005. He has held exhibitions in New York and the DeCordova Museum in Massachusetts, and his work can be found in the collections of the Davis Museum in Massachusetts, the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the Elton John Photography Collection. This is his second exhibition at M+B.