GRVTY – An Exploration of Black

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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.

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“…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?

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Black Tears

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.

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Floating Cities

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.

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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.

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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.

Models; Thogi & Gabu.

Make Up/Body Paint; Sinita of Cultured Ego (Culturedego@gmail.com)

Assistant; Mwas

Concept, Photography & Edit; Mutua Matheka

ACQUIRE PRINTS OF MY IMAGES;

Would you love to acquire a print of my work? Please see my online print market that has the costs and sizes of prints available. They are quite affordable so check it out and grab a print or three. Go to the link Here! Also, you can now join our Art Program & subscribe/lease prints at a fraction of the cost of buying one. Check it out.

Please note that the images in this series are only available as limited prints so If interested in those please email info@mutuamatheka.co.ke and I will hook you up.

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  • Brian Siambi™

    Waaaah this is amazing bro the rawness of the images, its like a struggle of accepting yourself or conform to everyone else. The contrasts, emotions is just unreal. Beautiful work msee shoot portraits more often.

    • Maze asante Siash. I will try shoot portraits even if the struggle is real. So real. Thank you

  • Jodie

    Lovely Post Mutua, The contrast, the melanin and everything is just amazing. Keep inspiring.

  • Wow! These portraits are incredible! My favourite is the Black Tears one. I love the details of the cracked white as well as the fact that part of the body remains black. I really like the quote by Frantz Fanon the portrait shows the tiresome effort of trying to bleach the mind and the body.

    • Thank you Cindy. I am glad the portrait reaches you this way. It’s possibly my fave of the lot because I feel sad anytime I look at it. Also her black tears show that when she cries, her real self (black) is what comes out even after she tries to bleach her world.

  • Joe_I

    This is amazing work! I loved the struggle of being black. Very expressive. Keep up the good work.

  • Imeldah Natasha Kondo

    This exhibition was amazing and to see some of the images that weren’t up and the creative thought process behind it.
    MAD INSPIRATION!

    Thank you Mutua!

  • Oscar Ogutu

    When light and contrast come to play the outcome is always epic. I can only imagine how you feel every time you go through this project.This is deep. Very inspiring indeed.

  • renee kemuma

    you expressed the black and white clearly and its true black people struggle alot by the end of the day good work Mutua

  • Rmc

    Mutua how’s hand are those ones??