“South Africa is a fractured, schizophrenic, wounded and troubled place”, says Pieter Hugo. How can one live there? He feels like a “piece of colonial driftwood”, which is arguably what opens his eyes to the contradictions and conflicts, for the areas of friction and tension that exist within (South) African society. In “The Hyena Men Series” (2005-2007), Pieter Hugo exemplified the innate drama of post-colonial society for the first time. In Nigeria, he found a group of young men living with hyenas, baboons and snakes. Following a tradition, they travel around as actors with their animals and sell traditional medicine. Their performances create a sensation and enthral audiences. In his shots, taken against the backdrop of contourless shanty towns, Pieter Hugo focuses on the men’s relationship with their animals. The clearly composed photographs are unsettling images that symbolise the extreme tension between nature and culture, between humans and animals, tradition and modernity, city and wilderness that characterises urban sub-Saharan life today.
“Even though it feels like I've been doing it forever, I am still daunted. It is easier to alienate a stranger than it is to get to know a stranger. You first have to explain who you are and what your intentions are, and then answer to the inevitable WHY? Then the act of persuasion, coming to an agreement. The subject has to be willing to give something. I don't want it to feel like the image was taken with me only taking. It needs and I hope for a moment of voluntary vulnerability.”- Pieter Hugo