Namsa Leuba develops a powerful photographic work with her strange characters photographed in natural landscapes during her travels far from Europe. The African continent in particular exerts an almost magical fascination on the artist. The work eludes definition : is it documentary fiction, fashion images, performances or a vast investigation into non-Western identities?
For the past 10 years, the artist, born of a Guinean mother and a Swiss father, has used the photographic medium to question exoticism. Paying particular attention to postures, costumes, props and sets, she creates strong settings around her characters. For several years, Leuba has explored the Western imagination in relation to African cultures. The series Weke, produced in the Republic of Benin, the cradle of Vodou, features stories inspired by local animist traditions. In Tonköma, a series produced for a fashion brand founded by Ali Hewson and Bono (US), she has her models pose on a Johannesburg rooftop and plays on the contrast between the urban environment and her creatures on stilts. Inspired by the figure of the Nyamou from Guinean tradition and often described as “the devil in the sacred forest”, the artist, who grew up between two cultures, plays here with the juxtaposition of identities that come into tension. In the Illusions series, made in Tahiti where the artist lived for two years, it is the myth of the vahine that is explored. In response to Paul Gauguin’s paintings, which contributed to the dissemination of the myth of exoticism in modern art, Leuba once again challenges us by focusing on the hybridization of genres in Polynesian culture. Her images are addressed to us – Westerners – and return us to the stereotypes of female beauty as they have been conveyed by the so-called tropical images. In Tahiti, the artist places her models, who belong to the “LGTBQ+” community, in the midst of a lush nature and associates the idea of beauty with the strangeness of bodies.
In her photographic work, Leuba creatively recreates scenes that evoke “otherness”. Posing in costumes and settings imagined by the artist, her models embody characters who seem to come out of fantastic tales. Combining the Western imagination with representations of the “other”, the artist has created a powerful work that questions our Western gaze.
A numbered edition signed by the artist, produced for the MBAL, is being released for the exhibition. The artist’s first monograph, Crossed Looks, published in 2021 by Damiani, is available at the museum shop. Namsa Leuba’s work is also featured in the exhibition The New Black Vanguard.
Namsa Leuba (Switzerland/Guinea, 1982), who holds a master’s degree in art direction from the ECAL/École cantonale d’art de Lausanne and a postgraduate degree in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York, works between France, Switzerland and the African continent. The award-winning artist from Neuchâtel broke through on the international scene in 2011 with Ya Kala Ben, a series of photographs taken in his mother’s native Guinea. Her work is regularly exhibited in Switzerland and abroad, including South Africa, Nigeria, Canada, South Korea and Spain.