‘Wata Na Life’ is a project by Sierra Leonian Visual Artist, Ngadi Smart, which was commissioned by WaterAid and the British Journal of Photography (BJP). On the 14th of October 2017, following three days of severe rainfall, a mountain valley-side slope in the Western Area Rural of Sierra Leone – located on the outskirts of the country’s capital, Freetown – collapsed. A catastrophic landslide developed into a breakneck stream of debris, which travelled 6km through the city and out to the coast. A World Bank report which was published several weeks after the event, identified 1,141 dead or missing, making it the worst natural disaster in Sierra Leone's history. In the wake of the mudslides, Freetown’s already-distressed water supply was dangerously contaminated by bacteria, blood, and human remains, carrying the risk of cholera. This tragedy was but a single thread in the web of Sierra Leone’s complex battle with the impacts of global warming — and in particular, the way it’s affecting their access to clean water.
“[The project] is a small, complex window into what daily life can be in Sierra Leone, highlighting the cumulative effects of destabilisation, lack of infrastructure, corruption and, lastly, human-caused climate change: an example of how this has affected, and will continue to affect, developing nations on the African continent” states Smart.
Ngadi’s work is not your usual depiction of the suffering and destruction. Her creativity in mixing collages, double exposure and colour enables her to present a difficult topic in a way that does not perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Alongside shedding light on the “full reality” of Sierra Leone’s water crisis, the work is a marked rejection of the “dehumanising” way developing African countries have historically been portrayed by Western media — instead using vibrant collage to capture the multi-layered identities of the people and places of Smart’s country of origin.
Far from a story of helpless people, Smart’s body of work is a story of people helping themselves: communities banding together, and – through both traditional knowledge and innovative techniques – finding ways to adapt. “I want Sierra Leoneans to look at this work and feel proud,” says Smart, resolutely. “That's the most important thing.”
Ngadi Smart is a Sierra Leonean Visual Artist and Designer based between London, U.K and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Her practice comprises of Illustration, Photography and Design. She also works as a Mixed Media artist, primarily in the form of collage art. In her Photography, her focus is documenting cultures, subcultures and intimacy. Her work often speaks on how people self-identify and choose to present themselves in front of the lens. Recently, she has also been interested in documenting Black sensuality and culture from an African point of view. Click here to view the rest of the project.