Thursday, 9 February 2012

Namsa Leuba

Namsa Leuba is a young African-European photographer based in Switzerland, and a recent alumnus of ECAL, that ever-fertile proving ground for creative talent in Lausanne. The striking work here, from her series Ya Kala Ben (Crossed Look) was shot in Guinea Conakry in West Africa, and partly explores the rituals and cosmology of the people there. The weirder elaborate costumes in the more formal work here are based on votive Guinean statuettes, recreated using models and props on location. Then there are some striking photographs of street acrobats, which are perhaps even more effective given the athletic prowess of their subjects, and the simplicity of the shots. Leuba separates these images into different sequences, but they are show mixed up here to give an overview of her work. All the images have a strong, powerful vision, reminding one of Pieter Hugo's African portraits, but there is a vague sense of unease and exploitation on the viewer's part. Hugo's work is either of real, raw individuals living extraordinary lives, or of actors and players in full horror make-up. But what, exactly, are Leuba's 'statuette' photographs of? She is more than aware of the implicit issues here though, and with the stylised shots she provocatively played with the various sacred objects and symbols to recontextualise them for Western eyes. In doing so, the living statues she has created become something different, with no real spiritual meaning, but with an undeniable aesthetic power. However, this often met with astonished (and sometimes violent) reactions from the Guineans, who felt what she was doing bordered on the sacrilegious.

All images © Namsa Leuba