Guinean-Swiss art director and photographer Namsa Leuba has a practice that combs through the representation of African identities as they are interpreted within the western imagination, highlighting the mechanisms of this imaginary’s construction and its problematic enforcement as a sign of universality. This reflection as the foundation of her practice comes from her double heritage, noting that she has spent most of her life in Switzerland which had a large influence on how she sees the world.
Leuba’s imagery taps into the symbols that make up her cultural heritage, from rituals and ceremonies to monuments and outfits. Her work takes on an anthropological nature, but flips the discipline and its connection to imagery on its head by removing objectification, racial probing and the framing of subject matter as occupying anachronistic space from her photographic approach. Her questioning of dualisms (such as the relationship between the sacred and profane, fact and fiction), and her mixing of cultural practices and symbolisms assist in her ability to elegantly, intimately and carefully present people from the continent. However, she is always aware that her work is from her own point of view.
Her latest series, Weke, disputes the western view on African traditional religions. This series captures the voodoo and animist practices in Benin. Living in Benin for two and a half months, she took on the method of participant observation, taking part in different rituals to get first-hand experience of the people and the world she planned to photograph. This research method created depth in her final images, allowing her to highlight the invisible which makes up so much of this religion and framework for viewing the world. There is a kind of trippy, surrealist element to the way in which these images are presented, drawing the viewer closer, cultivating a sense of curiosity and appreciation.