Guy Tillim Petros Village
Petros Village is situated in central Malawi, about 50 kilometres north of the capital Lilongwe. Rural, but not remote, the villagers rely on a local market for the sale of tobacco and beans for cash, and grow maize as a staple food. In 2004 the rains didn’t fall and their crops failed, but a famine was averted because the Italian Trust, Sant’Egidio Community, assisted them among others. This year, as in all years, they face the same engagement with the climate, an opportunistic and precarious existence, with an uncertain harvest.
Petros Village takes its name from its chief, Petros James. In accordance with Chewa law he inherited the chieftainship not from his father, but from his uncle, his mother’s brother. The son of his sister Neri will inherit the title from Petros, and take his name, just as Petros did from his uncle. As Petros said, the sons and daughters of your sister are your real relatives; your real home is where your mother comes from.
I met Petros with Dr Piero Bestagini and Moses Chigona from the Sant’Egidio feeding centre and laboratory at nearby Mtengawantenga. Within a few minutes of meeting him, he had agreed that I could spend a week in the village. Dr Piero asked where I would stay and without hesitation Petros took us to his homestead and showed us his sleeping quarters. He and his wife would move into the room where they prepare food.
It is only a day or two later that I realised the significance of this concession. The hospitality I’ve received is so open-handed, so otherworldly, that it’s almost impossible to imagine in the place I come from. I try to place it, this generosity of spirit. I think of traditional rural hospitality, custom, and things time-honoured and unmolested by city life. But the sense of it is elusive, muted by my prejudice, obscured by my ignorance.
The sun is setting, hiatus before the deep village dark, a whispering group of children gather around me in the twilight just to stare.
About the author
1962, Johannesburg, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa
Tillim was born in Johannesburg in 1962. He started photographing professionally in 1986 and joined Afrapix, a collective of South African photographers with whom he worked closely until 1990. His work as a freelance photographer in South Africa for the local and foreign media included positions with Reuters between 1986 and 1988, and Agence France Presse in 1993 and 1994. Tillim has received many awards for his work including the Prix SCAM (Societe Civile des Auteurs Multimedia) Roger Pic in 2002, the Higashikawa Overseas Photographer Award (Japan) in 2003, the 2004 DaimlerChrysler Award for South African photography, the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2005 and the first Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in 2006.
He has also held solo exhibitions at Haus für Kunst, Altdorf, and Haunch of Venison, Zurich, in 2008. Recent group exhibitions include Great Expectations: Contemporary photography looks at today’s Bitter Years at Casino Luxembourg – Forum of Contemporary Art, Luxembourg (2009); The Face of Our Time at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); Peripheral Vision and Collective Body at the Museion, Bolzano, Italy (2008); Home Lands – Land Marks at Haunch of Venison, London (2008); Documenta12 (2007); the São Paulo Biennial (2006); SLUM: Art and life in the here and now of the civil age at the Neue Galerie in Graz; Photography, Video, Mixed Media III at the DaimlerChrysler Gallery in Berlin; and the travelling exhibition Africa Remix (2004-2007).
His work is included in Vitamin Ph (Phaidon, 2006).
Mitch Epstein, American Power, 2003-2008
Christian Als, Kibera - The Shadow City, 2007-2008
Edward Burtynsky, Oil, 1999-2009
Stéphane Couturier, Melting Point, 2005
Chris Jordan, Midway: Message from the Gyre, 2009-2010
Yeondoo Jung, Evergreen Tower, 2001
Vera Lutter, Body of Work, 1997-2006
Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo, The Hell of Copper, 2008
Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, 2004-2007
Thomas Struth, Paradise, 1998-2006
Guy Tillim, Petros Village, 2006
Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density, 2005-2009