Five photographers look at Africa's changing traditions and history, questioning the images' relationship to supposed truth and inherent fiction.
This year’s Joburg Art Fair zooms in on Nigeria by featuring five contemporary photographers from the LagosPhoto Arts Festival of photography.
Themed Staging Reality, Documenting Fiction, the selected photographers share their take on social and political issues and conditions in Africa. Enjoying its fifth anniversary as a festival in Nigeria, LagosPhoto also celebrates its second exhibition ?at the Joburg Art Fair. By expanding its reach, the festival hopes to engage an international audience and promote the artists’ projects to a wider demographic.
According to the fair’s curator, Joseph Gergel, the photographers negotiate the boundaries between photography and beliefs in truths. “These artists work in performative practices as they create staged narratives, theatrical collaborations with local communities and fictionalised self-portraiture.
“They explore the changing realities of Africa, bridging local traditions and history. They question photography’s relationship to truth, not attempting to document a reality per se but rather looking at the image’s supposed veracity and its inherent fictions.”
Featured artist Namsa Leuba (32) — whose accolades include the Photo Global Prize at the 2012 Fashion and Photography Festival in Hyères and who was one of last year’s winning emerging photographers at the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Festival in the United States — credits her inspiration to the African continent and her work influences to artists such as Olaf Breuning, Stefan Burger and Lukas Wassmann.
Leuba will be exhibiting Cocktail at the Staging Reality exhibition — a series presenting photos of her subjects covered in elaborate clothing and elements of nature.
“In my fashion-centred work I use a lot of lights, colours and elements of graphic design to create my aesthetic,” she says. In the past two years, Leuba, who describes herself as an African-European with a Guinean mother and a Swiss father, has been researching the topic of “African identity through Western eyes”.
In her work, she adds, she has “developed either a historical approach, a documentary approach or a look oriented on an anthropology of materials”.
Other participating artists include Cristina de Middel (Spain), Jenevieve Aken (Nigeria), Karl Ohiri and Riikka Kassinen (UK and Finland) and Patrick Willocq (France). Ohiri’s work deals with themes such as identity and discourses around death and relationships. The portrait Medicine Man was inspired by his mother, who died in 2012 after battling cancer. He worked on the portrait with his partner Kassinen and describes it in his blog as a “as a joint mourning-ritual and an act of closure” for them.
Documentary photographer De Middel, well known for her photography book The Afronauts, published in 2012, about a short-lived Zambian space programme in Southern Africa,is exhibiting This Is What Hatred Did.
Award-winning photographer Willocq’s I Am Walé Respect Me comprises staged photos that pay tribute to motherhood, fertility and femininity. When photographer Jenevieve Aken is not in front of the camera as a model, she is behind the lens working on social documentary photography. Her series The Masked Woman is a self-portrait performance addressing the issue of women as sex objects or possessions.
All five photographers will also be exhibiting their work at the coming annual Lagos Photo festival in Lagos, Nigeria in October.