This is an old project that I felt it was finally time to stop procrastinating and share. As Prokraft Africa, we decided to do a group exhibition last year but talked about it in August 2014. We decided to have a common theme, Black. Interpret Black however way you want to. The name of the exhibition, GRVTY.
A lot was going through my mind at the time about what it means to be black. What it means to be black here, in Nairobi vs out there in the West. I thought about what blackness is perceived as in a white world vs. in my everyday world. I rarely have to think about being black in Kenya but it does come up once in a while, like when i’m expected to charge lower than that white guy who also sent in his quotation for photography because, why would I, a Kenyan dare think I could charge more than a white person. But that’s a story for another day.
In my mind, visually, I wanted this project to be a stark contrast of black and white. With the black, truly, deeply black and the whites, extra brilliant. I knew I wanted to shoot in Black/White to bring this out even more. Also I really wanted to see how I could get this blackness to stand out in an expanse of white (paper). So I got the blackest model I knew, Gabu. And I also got the most expressive model I knew, Thogi. I wanted a hardness with Gabu and a softness with Thogi. Sinita of Cultured Ego did the make up which was to enhance the blackness on Gabu and whitewash Thogi.
“…her mother told her that life was difficult for a woman of colour. So since she could no longer try to blacken, negrify the world, she was going to try, in her own body and in her own mind, to bleach it.” – Frantz Fanon (Black Skin White Masks)
I started to think of the many ways we see whiteness/lightness (of skin) as the answer or at least as a way out. Flawed beauty standards leading to skin lightening and bleaching. If she saw whiteness as the way out, how far would she go to be white?
I also thought about the romanticization of blackness as raw beauty. Beauty that you look at from afar but don’t interact with, a lot like you do at a museum. I reduced this blackness to a form, a silhouette of dark forms that are undoubtedly black and raw. This whole territory was unfamiliar to me. Portraiture itself is a foreign field to me. See, I photograph buildings. I took photos of the skyline of Nairobi in harsh contrast. Dark forms, just like our model. I put the two together to form continuous shapes that together made a strong mark on my white canvas. What does this blackness start to become? Blobs? Beautiful Shapes? Floating cities. All create their own mood in the way they sit on the white canvas. Some bold, some defiant, some meek.
After I had already finished shooting the series, I had looked at the images and more ideas kept coming to my mind. The hands in particular made me feel some typa way. I used them because they illicit some feelings in me. And bore the following images.
The Struggle of being Black
So that was the end of my deliberate thinking. I have a few more images that I decided to shoot regardless and those are the ones below. They complete the project for me.
I hope you enjoyed and appreciated my process. Please let me know which image you love most, and what your interpretation of the images is. I would very much love to know how you perceive the images. Thank you for checking this out. God bless you.
Make Up/Body Paint; Sinita of Cultured Ego (Culturedego@gmail.com)
Concept, Photography & Edit; Mutua Matheka
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