Sugri Zenabu, a <em>mangazia</em> (female community leader) of the Gambaga &ldquo;witch camp&rdquo;, sits encircled by residents in Gambaga, Ghana. Zenabu shows some signs of confusion and memory loss associated with dementia.
2023 Photo Contest, Africa, Singles

The Big Forget


Lee-Ann Olwage

Bob & Diane Fund, for Der Spiegel
27 October, 2022

Sugri Zenabu, a mangazia (female community leader) of the Gambaga “witch camp”, sits encircled by residents in Gambaga, Ghana. Zenabu shows some signs of confusion and memory loss associated with dementia.

This photograph is part of a personal project aimed at drawing attention to often overlooked stories about dementia from the African continent. As life expectancy rises, dementia is increasingly becoming a public health and socio-cultural issue in Africa. Numbers of people living with dementia in sub-Saharan Africa are projected to double every 20 years. While key policy makers highlight trends in dementia care, treatment, and prevention, less attention is given to cultural perceptions of the condition.

People who hold traditional beliefs in Ghana and across sub-Saharan Africa sometimes see dementia symptoms such as confused speech, uncontrolled swearing, and disoriented wandering as signs of sorcery. Women are accused of being witches more frequently than men. In Ghana, they may flee or be sent away to live in so-called “witch camps”. The camps are controversial. On the one hand, they offer refuge and protection from violence; on the other, residents are stigmatized, and open to exploitation by local chiefs, who earn money from trials and rituals associated with witchcraft. Nurses from local communities who are sensitive to traditional beliefs, can play a bridging role in education about dementia, and so in reducing discrimination and stigmatization. 

Lee-Ann Olwage has family members who experienced dementia, and staged this portrait to allude to the many women who have passed through the camp.

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Lee-Ann Olwage
About the photographer

Lee-Ann Olwage is a visual storyteller from South Africa.  Olwage’s work explores themes of identity, transitions and universal narratives through long-term projects. With an interest in using photography as a mode of celebration, her collaborative projects allow individuals to engage in the co-creation o...

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Jury comment

The photographer tackles a global public health issue that is usually hidden across Africa. The jury identified the photo’s high visual quality and use of symbols to reflect on people’s experiences of dementia and other age-related illnesses. The image captures an experience that mostly takes place in the unseen world of people's minds, in a clever, figurative way. The image successfully represents both memory loss and the tournstyle of people who pass through the camp while also centering the role of the female leader. The photographer achieves this while also avoiding the reinforcement of harmful stereotypes.