POLIS/ITLR Fieldwork Photography Competition 2nd prize: ‘I stripped to defend our land’

by Tessa Laing

Tessa laing
PHOTO: 'I stripped to defend our land', Uganda, October 2019. © Tessa Laing.

We are pleased to present the winners of the 2020 POLIS/ITLR Fieldwork Photography Competition. This photo by Tessa Laing, PhD candidate at the Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge, won 2nd prize.

From the photographer:

In this moment an Acholi woman gestures, demonstrating how she and other older women stripped naked in front of government ministers to protest ongoing violent evictions from their land. Their act succeeded in bringing many officials to tears, and ensured the retreat of soldiers, armed vehicles and police from the confrontation.

During fieldwork for my ethnographic study of ‘resistance to state-driven land expropriation for conservation in Uganda’ in 2019, I accompanied rural activists from Northern Uganda who travelled to the foothills of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda to share strategies of resistance with representatives of the Benet community. The Benet women present burst into spontaneous applause, immediately recognising that by baring their nakedness, the Acholi grandmothers both shamed the officials and implied a curse. While these two unrelated groups speak different languages, I was struck by their common understanding of the significance of this symbolic act of protest.