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They Were Us: Stories of Victims and Survivors of Police Brutality in Kenya

Betty Press | N, Kenya

Organization: Mothers of Victim and Survivors Network

This poster, They Were Us: Stories of Victims and Survivors of Police Brutality in Kenya, was designed to remember the names of the victims who lost their lives to state-sanctioned violence. Under the title in yellow are names of some of the victims killed by police in Kenya.

THEY WERE US is a project to remember victims of police brutality in Kenya. Their stories have been collected by the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network which was founded by Mama Victor (Benna Buluma) who lost two sons, Bernard and Victor, to police killings during the Kenyan 2017 post-election violence. Realizing she was not alone in experiencing such injustice, she reached out to other affected families. Together they share stories of oppression and foster much-needed conversation. Activism against police harassment is considered a threat by police. Since 2015, more than 500 people have been killed by police or reported missing.

This documentary shows how community members in the poorest neighborhoods reclaim their right to exist through civic participation, community organizing and documentation of human rights violations.  

The project documents the stories of eighteen families dealing with a political system where poverty is criminalized through state-sanctioned violence - in the name of safer communities. The aim is to reduce police brutality and achieve justice for bereaved families. Project team members are Mama Victor, writer Kanyi Wyban, and photographer Betty Press.

Betty Press never expected to travel beyond the rural Nebraskan farm where she grew up. After graduating from university and working for a few years as a teacher she hitch-hiked around the world for two years with her husband.

Betty is well known for her photographs taken in Africa where she lived and worked in Kenya from 1987 to 1995 and in Sierra Leone in 2008-09 while her husband was on a Fulbright scholarship. Now living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi she continues to photograph in the USA, Central America and in Africa.She still considers Kenya her second home.

From 2010 to 2019 she documented life in Mississippi. Finding Mississippi records ‘real life’ in small communities throughout Mississippi with black-and-white film, using toy and vintage cameras. The resulting imperfections, soft focus and vignetting serve as metaphors for how landscape, race and religion have played a part in the complicated history of Mississippi.

Her photographs have been widely-exhibited, selected for many juried competitions and added to many private and public collections. In 2011 she published an award winning photobook,I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb which captured a stunning, life-affirming portrait of the African people and culture.

In August 2019 she returned to Kenya to work on personal projects dealing with urban culture and social injustice.

She is represented by Panos Pictures, London; International Visions, Washington, DC; Fischer Galleries, Jackson, Mississippi; and One Off Contemporary Art Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya.

Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network, Nairobi, Kenya

Mathare Green Movement, Nairobi, Kenya

Social Justice Working Group, Nairobi, Kenya

Website: www.bettypress.com

Instagram: @bettypress

Twitter: @iphotoafrica


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