[By Pelu Awofeso]
Sometime in 2015 Photographer Namsa Leuba was an artist in residence with Art 21 in Lagos. While there, she collaborated with local fashion houses to produce a series of works with non-professional, everyday Lagosians as models. She titled the project Next Generation Lagos (NGL) and a selection of images produced from that stint featured as part of her solo exhibition–titled Ethnomodern–in the arty West African city last November.
“NGL explores the innovation and creativity of Nigeria’s youth culture,” part of the into to the collection reads, citing I.AM.ISIGO, Tzar Studios, Maxivive, Tokyo James, Adeju Thompson, Re Bahia, Torlowei and Deco as the partnering fashion houses. “Leuba was inspired by the energy of the city of Lagos – its chaos, vibrancy, and determination – translating this spirit into a unique visual metaphor.”
Besides NGL, the exhibition at Art 21’s space also incudes a wide ranging body of work executed by the 34 year old, dating back to 2011: Zulu Kids, Coctails, Ya Kala Ben, The Kings and Khoisan, among others.
Whether she is photographing ritual practices with indigent models in Guinea (her mother’s home country) or school kids decked in traditional costumes in South Africa, it appears that Leuba–whose father is Swiss–is constantly trying to reconnect with and discover the deep-seated heritage of her African origins. All of Leuba’s works on the wall, mostly staged in the studio or on the field, show that the mind behind the lens has a thing for detail and are reflective of one who took exceptional care to frame and capture an end product respectful of that African heritage.
Some props in her images include: wax fabrics, chunky braids, baskets, raffia fans, catapults and a splash of colourful fashion. Though raised outside of Africa, Leuba comes across as an individual who wholeheartedly embraces the old established African customs that majority of Africans are known to distance themselves from, the long-term effect of a wholesale embrace of Christianity.
“Leuba portrays African tradition in a wholly fantastic and contemporary light,” goes part of the general introduction to Ethnomodern, described as a reflection “of the the plurality of Leuba’s practice in both her aesthetic and thematic concerns”.
What I found most fascinating, while walking through the exhibition, was the revelation that the multiple award-winning photographer “generally examines the representation of African identity through the Western stereotype imagination”. It is what Italian photographers Alex Majoli and Paolo Pellegrin failed remarkable at in their joint exhibition Another Congo, also shown at Art 21.
So is this trademark style and treatment to dowse a homesickness? To make the most of a much-craved but not not often had homecoming opportunity perhaps?
She giggles. “It’s just me seeing African identities through Western eyes,” she tells me on the exhibition’s opening night.
And why does she prefer to work more with non-professional models? “To me, they are more authentic,” she says.
Some of the models who participated in the NGL shoot were also present, all of them smiling, chit-chatting and generally enjoying their time in the spotlight.
‘Ethnomodern’ is on till 10 January 2017