Mário Macilau Receives James Barnor Photography Prize 2023

The recipient of the second edition of the James Barnor Foundation Prize is multi-disciplinary artist-activist Mário Macilau. Alongside a €10,000 grant, the James Barnor Foundation Prize is designed to honor the careers of established photographers, providing them with deserved recognition.
Mário Macilau, widely acclaimed for his photographic contributions, stands out as a prominent figure among the emerging generation of Mozambican artists. Born in Maputo in 1984, his early life, marked by the necessity to contribute to his family’s income, profoundly influenced his artistic perspective. Presently, Macilau divides his time between Maputo, Lisbon, and Cape Town, frequently undertaking international travels to produce his photographic works. Over the years, he has cultivated a distinctive style characterized by a poignant sensitivity in selecting subjects and establishing a profound connection with them.
In his series titled “Faith,” Macilau explores the practice of animism within traditional religions in contemporary Mozambique. The documentation of isolated communities facing increasing threats from climate change adds a critical dimension to the work, emphasizing both its documentary and aesthetic significance.
His artistic endeavors serve as a profound tribute to Mozambique, aiming to shed light on the interplay between human labor and the environment. Employing predominantly black-and-white photography, Macilau captures subjects of varying ages who embody the essence of Mozambique. However, this notable achievement is just a chapter in the captivating narrative of the artist’s extraordinary journey.
Macilau’s photographic passion ignited in the vibrant markets of Mozambique at the age of 14, where he first recognized the transformative power of a camera. His humble beginnings reflect the quintessence of self-taught dedication and an unwavering pursuit of his craft. Recollecting those early days, he shared, “I started to take photographs of my surroundings, documenting people from the townships as they traveled to the city to sell their things. I developed black-and-white photos in a darkroom I made in my mother’s house.”
While Macilau has transitioned to digital photography, his roots remain firmly embedded in the raw, monochromatic aesthetic of black and white. As a true storyteller, he captures the spirit of Mozambique and other diverse populations, where he both resides and passionately practices his craft.
A noteworthy aspect of Macilau’s work lies in his steadfast commitment to showcasing dignity and unique identities. He champions individuals from marginalized and often overlooked communities, using his lens to bestow upon them the recognition they rightfully deserve.
Macilau’s artistic journey has traversed continents, with his work gracing exhibitions across Africa and gaining acclaim in Europe and the United States. With each click of the camera, he reveals the unseen, weaving narratives that transcend borders and cultures.
Affirming his exceptional talent, tireless dedication, and artistic vision, Mário Macilau is recognized for his profound impact on the world of photography. His remarkable evolution from a self-taught photographer in Mozambique’s markets to an internationally acclaimed artist is nothing short of inspiring.
The James Barnor Photography Prize serves as a fitting accolade, honoring an artist whose work exemplifies the compelling nature of visual storytelling. Macilau’s photography, characterized by its timeless resonance and utilization of black and white, provides a glimpse into the soul of Mozambique and universal stories of humanity that resonate with audiences worldwide.

A portrait of Mário Macilau

About the Author

Mário Macilau began photography in 2003, spending the first years of his career in training. In 2007, he launched his career as a professional photographer, abandoning his mother’s cell phone in favor of a Nikon FM2 camera. Within a short space of time, he gained international recognition. Macilau won several awards, worked all over the world, and saw his work exhibited internationally. In particular, he was presented by the Foundation Dapper at the Dakar Biennale in 2022. He published his first book, Growing in Darkness, with Kehrer Editions in 2015, with texts by Roger Ballen, Mia Couto, and Simon Njami.
His photography highlights questions of identity, political issues, and environmental conditions, giving a voice to socially isolated groups, not only pointing out the world’s inequalities and social injustices but also capturing scenes of humanity, fraternity, victory, love, and hope. Using portraiture as a starting point, his photographic approach opens the door to broader perspectives.
For Macilau, photography can both show the harsh realities of life and develop a social conscience through the perception of problems in Mozambique and elsewhere. His photographs illustrate how the environment affects individuals in their daily lives, always seeking to establish a certain level of truth with his subjects, avoiding the emotional barrier that the presence of a camera can create.
He is represented by Ed Cross Fine Art Gallery. Mário Macilau was nominated for the James Barnor Award by Christine Barthe and Owanto.

About James Barnor Foundation

The James Barnor Foundation, headquartered in the UK, was initiated by the renowned Ghanaian photographer James Barnor in 2020. Its objectives include enhancing access to education and training in the arts, preserving African cultures, and spotlighting African cultural talent. The foundation’s inaugural project, the James Barnor Award, launched in 2022, annually recognizes a mid-career African photographer, with a focus on a different region of the continent each year.
As a trailblazer in Ghanaian photography, 94-year-old James Barnor actively shares his work with new generations of African photographers. His commitment to influencing contemporary artists and fostering the transmission of artistic spirit is evident in the establishment of an annual prize dedicated to African photographers. Structured on a six-year cycle, the prize is presented annually to an artist from a distinct region of the African continent. The first edition in 2022, dedicated to West Africa, celebrated Beninese photographer Sènami Donoumassou.
The unique emphasis on African photography in the realm of photographic prizes aligns with the James Barnor Foundation’s core objectives: the support of African culture and the education, training, and promotion of emerging generations of African artists.


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