From Freetown to Liverpool: Lee Karen Stow's 42 Women at the International Slavery Museum

By Ben Miller | 08 March 2011
A photo of two African women sitting down
© Lee Karen Stow
Exhibition: ‘42’ Women of Sierra Leone, International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

In 2007, on the brink of her 42nd birthday, photographer Lee Karen Stow travelled to the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown to teach a group of women about her work.

The city had been twinned with Stow’s birthplace of Kingston-upon-Hull, but the comparison ends there – across the ocean, health statistics mean women can barely expect to live beyond their early 40s, a life expectancy barely half as long as white women in the West.

In a country still ranked as one of the poorest in the world a decade after it emerged from a ravaging 11-year civil war, Stow was determined to find glimmers of hope.

“’42’ Women of Sierra Leone is about putting a human face to the statistics and showing the beauty, spirit, hope and value to society of women who wake each morning with the belief that one day, life really will get better,” she says.

“In the developing world, too many women still suffer immense hardship and despair. Women do not have equal access to education, economic opportunities, health facilities or social freedoms. This is not just happening in Sierra Leone, it is happening elsewhere.”

Forty-two colour shots figure in the collection, capturing the emotions of Stow’s subjects during four years of visits to Sierra Leone. Part of the Look11 Liverpool International Photography Festival, she wants it to spark a backlash against inequality among visitors.

“My aim for the exhibition is to show that these women, and women in similar circumstances, should be given the right to live, not die,” she passionately adds.

“If these women are given more time, more years, more respect, just see what they can do and achieve.”

Watch a video on the show:

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