The very personal photographic series "Wearing the Inside Out" by Hady Barry captures the lives of the Guinean artist’s extended family and friends.
An artist and storyteller who works with photography and sound, Hady Barry focuses on deeply personal stories to uncover universal truths that connect us all. Barry took up photography fifteen years ago, and it helped her document her travels. She returned to it in the summer of 2020, after a challenging year. Yearning for creative expression to soothe and care for her mental health, she directed her entire creative energy towards herself. “I was encouraged to think about what I wanted to explore through photography,” she says. “My return to the medium coincided with my friend Azi becoming pregnant with her second child, and I thought that it would be interesting to see if photography could help me navigate feelings about myself, womanhood, and being a mother.”
Barry is fascinated with memories and how one can document them – hers and those of the people close to her. The first photo she took on a professional DSLR camera was of her friend Jenny, who was about to get married. Barry had flown from Washington DC to Istanbul to attend the wedding and slept at Jenny’s place the night before. She photographed her friend in her bathroom, getting ready, with her hair still in curlers. Barry chose to capture this very private moment as a reflection in the mirror.
Her works often start with a story close to her environment. Barry is drawn to the kind of photography that only intimacy enables. It is no surprise that in her latest series, Wearing the Inside Out, Barry again turned her camera towards a close friend, this time Azi. Azi and Barry have been friends since the age of five – they met in first grade. Their families are very close, and even when Azi and Barry lost touch between their early teens and mid-twenties, their parents did not. When Barry moved back to Abidjan in 2018, she and Azi rekindled their friendship. “I was amazed at how alike we are and yet how differently we had learned to process things,” she recalls. “We have similar interests and are both curious about the world. Yet it often appears to me that I have more difficulties navigating through life than Azi. I can sit with negative thoughts for a long time whereas Azi would set them aside and not dwell on them.”
Wearing the Inside Out is Barry’s largest body of work to date. She embarked on the series with the intention of stretching herself as a photographer and storyteller. The series helped her untangle some murky feelings she had about motherhood, which were steeped in fear and trauma. At an early age Barry was responsible for the care of her younger siblings and felt robbed of her own childhood and adolescence. The idea of repeating this huge responsibility felt daunting. The series helped her to accept her fears and uncertainties about becoming a mother. It helped her to enjoy her freedom and recognize other ways in which she mothers – like as a proxy to her friend Azi’s children.
“This body of work is for me, first and foremost,” she says. “But it is also for anyone who has felt lonely or odd in questioning whether parenthood is for them. I found that women in their thirties without children relate to the anxiety and ambivalence towards motherhood that this series explores.” The work does not offer answers or attempt to be didactic. It rather gives space to those who engage with it to question their own relationship to parenthood. Barry hopes that the work will make people who have doubts about the issue feel less alone and less peculiar. There is a relief that comes from knowing that the existential questions we all grapple with are not unique to us.
Indeed the series has been gaining some attention, having been included in the 2021 Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition by London’s National Portrait Gallery. Barry also received an honorable mention for her submission to the 2022 Hariban Award and is among the runner-ups for the Vantage Point Photography Award.
Barry’s approach to photography is influenced by the likes of Elinor Carucci, Pixy Liao, and Siân Davey. Carucci and Davey focus mostly on their families and Liao on her relationship with her boyfriend. Barry hopes to create work that is as vulnerable and evocative, works that draw you in and linger in you long after. Her subject matter tends to come from somewhere deep within. In Nostalgia, Ultra, a series about immigration and displacement, Barry used archive material from her family albums and let the hues of these old images dictate the tones of the new photographs she was making to go alongside them. The series is as much about her as it is about her family. Barry wanted their voices to resonate strongly in the work, so she incorporated her sister’s diary entries within the images. Lately, Barry has been thinking about her father’s village Tolo in Guinea and why she does not refer to it as ‘my village’. She is unsure where these reflections will lead her but is curious enough to make a body of work about them.
From October 6 to November 5, Wearing the Inside Out will be presented in Barry’s first solo exhibition, titled Waiting for Kemet, at Villa 76 in Abidjan. Barry specifically chose the venue because the intimacy of the villa turned concept store reminded her of Azi’s house, where the series was produced. The setting gives a palpable sense of Barry’s creative processes, as well as an ideal context to critically contemplate this pertinent work on friendship and motherhood.
Though the series began as an inquisitive study on motherhood, it evolved into a revelation on an active practice of care. The exhibition also provides a closure of sorts for Barry and the Edouas – Azi, her husband, and Adjela, their first child – as they anticipate the arrival of Kemet, their second child. The series deftly shows how they each care for one another, how they share space, clothes, shoes, and joyful and apprehensive moments while waiting for Kemet to arrive. In A Mother’s Touch (2020) we see Azi holding Adjela’s face to clean her nose – showing a certain need for coercion, despite the intent of care. In Playing is Hard Work (2021), Barry expresses both the exhaustion and joy of being Adjela’s “auntie in residence” and godmother.
From October 6 to November 5, Hady Barry’s Waiting for Kemet is on view at Villa 76 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Hady Barry is a visual artist whose practice involves photography and sound. She was born in Guinea and grew up in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Her work engages with the weight of memory, the need for connection, and the construction of identity. Her approach is contemplative and introspective. It is anchored in a reverence for the minutiae of life. https://www.hadybarry.com/about-hady
Bayo Hassan Bello is a research-based artist, writer and curator whose artistic practice is inspired by local ephemera and indigenous aesthetics. His works investigate and seek to understand knowledge systems and cultural heritage. His current research is centered on African textiles and material culture which he explores through artist books, curated projects, experimental films and installations. In 2016, Bayo founded AJALA, a culture production platform focused on creating social impact for artists and creative communities from the Global South.