SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Butabu: adobe architecture in West Africa

An exhibition of photographs by James Morris
14 July – 19 September 2003

With these striking large format photographs James Morris seeks to dispel the misconception that African architecture comprises little more than mud huts.

Through the medium of large colour and black and white inkjet prints, this exhibition provides an insight into the creative ways in which architects in West Africa shape the available materials of earth and water into vibrant works of art and incredible feats of engineering. They also show the complex and divergent systems in which the simple properties of earth and water come together to convey forms of striking artistic sophistication and interest.

The visual features of West African earthen architecture — its unique play of texture, shadow, profile, and primary geometries—are enhanced by elements of the environment itself.

This is an architecture that challenges the inherent boundaries between built form and sculpture.

Included in the exhibition are buildings from Mali, Niger, Togo, and Burkina Faso. Among the Batammaliba peoples of Togo, one of the important cultures whose architecture is featured in, the term Butabu describes the process of moistening earth with water in preparation for building.

JAMES MORRIS is a photographer based in Britain. His work is largely concerned with the built environment and the cultural landscape, and has been commissioned by such architects as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Claudio Silvestrin. His pictures have appeared in numerous books and magazines and have been widely exhibited. He has recently been awarded prizes from the UK_s Design and Art Directors Guild and Chicago_s Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

The pictures included will appear as a monograph/book by Princeton Architectural press in November 2003, with text by Prof. Suzanne Preston Blier, Harvard University