Society for Psychological Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The image of old Locham with a small smile being pushed in a wheelbarrow by a young boy to the food distribution point in the Ik mountains, still holds me. The unexceptional photographs I took on the hot afternoon in 2016 do not capture the situation well, but the image sticks. The image is slightly haunting, but also potentially encouraging and surely unsettling in the sense that it does not land on a clear interpretation. Something about the image ‘melts’ the stereotype of poor, suffering, selfish Ik people (Turnbull 1972) and it ‘defrosts’ concepts (Arendt 1971) of suffering and care with perplexing particulars (Mattingly 2019) such as a wheelbarrow and a smile.
Locham in a wheelbarrow may be a kind of counter image to the Pulitzer-prize winning photo of a vulture perching near a little girl in the Sudan (1993), who had collapsed from hunger – a picture that became an icon of hunger (Kleinman and Kleinman 1996). The dismay of the image of the vulture and the girl is powerful and seductive, presenting hunger as a natural problem rather than political. It raises arrays of questions, and harmful generalizations of Africans not protecting their own, evoking ‘Heart of Darkness’ stereotypes.
Based on episodic fieldwork in the Ik community in Uganda, the paper explores some of these sticky and mindful images that may trouble and humanize our thinking about suffering and care.