FlamboyaViviane Sassen

(Contrasto, 2008 )

Photography’s exploration of the African continent is marred by a legacy of exploitative, imperialistic and colonial encounters. For well over a century, white westerners have entertained their photographic curiosity by portraying the land as a primitive place, an exotic experience mastered only by the lens of the brave explorer; its people largely sexualized or pitied.

For Dutch-born Viviane Sassen, her brief childhood encounter with East Africa would become resolutely embedded in her creative practice. The wilting resonance of early childhood memories, the grappling to retain the meaning and value of these once vivid experiences—form the foundations to her relationship with the continent and its people.

In Flamboya, the potent midday African light governs Sassen’s aesthetic and she crafts its dominance like a sculptor molding clay. The shadows obscure and reveal details and identities, shifting perspectives and distorting the obvious. The largely anonymous characters that Sassen choreographs become theatrical props in the landscape, eliminating sentimentality and forcing the viewer to address concerns of wider representations and clichés. In these shifting photographic performances, the burden of interpretation of ‘the other’ is placed heavily with the viewer, and that which is not shown.

Within the heavy shadows of Flamboya the surreal lingers, perceptions are manipulated, illusions created and ambiguity weaved throughout the distorted and illegible body shapes and lush foliage. The book design further enhances the fragmented reading of these narratives, as images partially reveal themselves and simultaneously clash with others, revealing Sassen’s Africa: a complex, vibrant and visually seductive narrative.

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