Photographer Namsa Leuba’s Work Upends African Genres and Stereotypes

Namsa Leuba is an unapologetic thief. “I take what I want from each culture and each thing that I experience in my life,” she says. Indeed, the photographer has made a lifelong habit of syncretism—hand-picking traditions and practices from every society, religion, place, or person that her quick-witted lens encounters. Her compositions are cleverly conjured deceits grounded, at least for now, in the heart of Africa. Each image plunges the eye into an imagined world while evoking the commanding feel of photojournalism. This is docufiction at its trickiest with exaggerated voodoo rituals, invented acts of statuette worship, and tattooed acrobatic spirits plodding through the tall grass on stilts.

Born in Switzerland to a Swiss father and a Guinean mother, Leuba studied photography at ECAL, the University of Art and Design in Lausanne, and currently splits her time between Africa, Europe, and French Polynesia. At the moment she works in the garden of her rented bungalow in Tahiti, pumping Pink Floyd into the trees for laidback vibes. When we spoke over Whatsapp, Leuba had been trekking through the Andes for days and had just arrived, totally exhausted and with banged-up legs, at a little hotel in Lima. Her grandmother had passed away just before the trip began, but navigating dangerously narrow passes with her head (literally) in the clouds had helped Leuba to slowly make sense of things.

When European photographers trudged through West Africa with their clunky cameras in the 19th century, their contrived documentary shots of “the natives” were often used as a tool for proving African primitivism and consequent justification for colonial domination. But in reality, many of these images were staged to deceptively portray Africans as white Europeans wanted to see them: as savage, weak, exotic, and backwards. Leuba critically responds to this history by creating her own staged portraits, forcing viewers to question personal perceptions of fact versus fantasy.

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Image: Courtesy of Namsa Leuba and Art Twenty One Lagos

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