FASHIONING BLACK IDENTITY Africa and the African Diaspora explores ways in which contemporary black African artists are using fashion, photography and portraiture to redefine personal and cultural identity. The exhibition brings together works by six prominent artists from Africa and the African diaspora who use photography and different spatial, corporal and temporal reference points as devices to explore and unpack perceptions of race and being.
Working in the medium of photography and sometimes in collaboration with other artists or a community, the artists use fashion as a complex device that can convey individual and collective identity, speak of resistance and remembering, underscore creative expression and raise issues of race consciousness. Shifting between time past, present and future, these artists capture real and imagined experiences and situations to redefine images of self and race.
Malian photographer, Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) lived in Bamako, West Africa. From 1949 he photographed portraits of groups and individuals from all over Mali, and he is widely regarded as the inspiration for a new generation of West African art photography. Many of Keïta’s portraits were of young men dressed in European style clothing and carefully accessorised with objects collected by the artist. His photographs capture an era when Bamako transitioned from a French colonial city to the proud capital of independent Mali.
Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou was born in 1965 and lives and works in Porto-Novo, Benin. His images draw on an African tradition famously championed by Seydou Keïta. His portraiture project, Citizens of Porto-Novo, interprets the experience of a generation caught between staged modernity and tradition. The series included in the exhibition, Untitled (Musclemen series) 2012, looks at Porto-Novo’s competitive bodybuilders while the propping with plastic flowers raises issues about the objectification of the black male body in the 21st century.
Omar Victor Diop lives and works in Dakar. His creative spectrum ranges from art photography to fashion and advertising photography. Elements of costume design, styling and creative writing are inherent in his portrait photographs. While seemingly flamboyant, his highly contemporary images exude an aura of time and fashions long past. Backgrounds and patterning are carefully incorporated into his photographs to strengthen the subject’s personality and cultural references.
Namsa Leuba lives and works between Africa and Europe and her diverse photographic practice examines representations of African identity through a perceived western imagination. As a photographer she creates visual imagery that references fashion and performance while simultaneously exploring the signs and symbols of her cultural heritage, and questioning the relationship between fact and fiction, the sacred and the profane.
Delphine Diallo is a Brooklyn-based French and Senegalese visual artist and photographer whose early career was in the music industry. Her photographic works seek to challenge the norms of contemporary society and are visually challenging. Diallo combines artistry and activism to explore notions of empowerment of women, youth, and cultural minorities.
Atong Atem is a young Melbourne-based artist who examines the representation of blackness and her South Sudanese heritage through photography. She aims to decolonise and critique European narratives through photographs of friends and other young people from the African diaspora living in Australia. Atem’s photographs are carefully staged and composed, referencing traditional studio portraiture, the formal aesthetics of which were introduced to Africa by the British at the time of colonisation.
Jojo Abot is a Ghanaian artist who works across music, film, photography and performance to raise issues of identity and spirituality, and the conventional bias of colour, race, class and sexual orientation. As a Ghanaian musician, Abot thought she knew what freedom meant in the modern world until she traveled to South Africa and experienced a country still living in the shadows of apartheid, an experience she found both harrowing and inspiring.
Image: Leonce Raphael AGBODJELOU, Untitled (Musclemen series) (detail) 2012, digital print, 118.9 x 84.1 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Bell Gallery, London, UK