Flamboya, by Viviane Sassen
Viviane Sassen (Dutch, born 1972) studied fashion design and photography before receiving an MFA from Ateliers Arnhem, the Netherlands. Some of her earliest memories are of life in Kenya, where she spent three years as a child. When her family returned to the Netherlands in 1978, Sassen was troubled: “I didn’t feel like I belonged in Europe, and yet I knew I was a foreigner in Africa,” she says. Ten years later, at age sixteen, Sassen revisited Kenya, and she has been traveling and working in Africa ever since. She made Parasomnia, her newest body of work, in a number of intentionally unidentified African countries, featuring anonymous subjects. Parasomnia is a category of sleep disorder whose symptoms include abnormal dreams, nightmares, and sleepwalking. In the surreal pictures in this installation, Sassen invites viewers to follow her on a journey through the mysterious remnants of her memories.
“How is it to be young in Africa?” is a question Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen once thought she could answer without the shadow of a doubt –for she herself had been brought up in Kenya. Though she was still a child when her family decided to move back to the Netherlands, her memories of Africa remained vivid – at first as images of a longed-for home and, later on, as a set of fetish moments. She always carried in thoughts the barren plateaus of Kenya, the rewarding friendship with the children stricken with polio living across the street and the visions of a father who would spent his time surrounded by illness trying to find cure for his patients. It was in 2002, the year of her thirtieth birthday that she set foot on the continent of her childhood –for the first time since what had seemed to be ages. With her, she had brought the nostalgia of passed-times and a photo camera. First traveling to Cape Town, she came back to Europe with her series ‘Cape Flats’ (2002) and with the certainty that she would soon come back. Since then she has been journeying across an increasing number of countries in South and East Africa and has come to dismiss her own ideas about the continent as too reductive and simplistic.
‘Flamboya’ refers to the ‘Flamboyant’ tree which blossoms in December and spatters the landscape across East and South Africa with countless deep red-and-orange flowers. Yet, maybe this name constitutes the sole remaining concession and reference to an exotic image of Africa in the history of a body of work that otherwise helps challenging this enduring conception. Shot in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, the ‘Flamboya’ photographs stand as paradigmatic for Sassen’s new way of looking at Africa – one devoid of sentimentality and that through poetical metaphors acknowledges the challenges and drawbacks of its complex reality.
Although most of Sassen’s ‘Flamboya’ photographs are portraits, none of them allows viewer to easily (or not at all) distinguish the facial features of most of her models. Their personal identity is symbolically – and sometimes literally — left in shadow. Furthermore, just as the individuals portrayed wear clothes or seem to use their own body or natural environment as a camouflage, the quantity of descriptive elements in terms of geography and culturally laden props are restricted heavily. This apparent parsimony of visual information is counter-balanced by the use of bright colors and Sassen’s high sensibility for contrasts and appealing compositions. Although crucial aspects of the life conditions of the individuals portrayed still surface, Sassen’s ‘Flamboya’ photographs transcend the documentary and reach the metaphoric.”
more related posts you want to see:
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Alberto Garcia-Alix (NSFW);
Myths of the Human, by Alexis Vasilikos;
Chang Chao-Tang, the Ironic Absurdity;
A Shamanic Totem: Gonzalo Bénard;
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