The artist shares some previously unpublished work, explains the workings of the Vodun (voodoo) religion, and outlines the technical consolidation of the Western gaze.
1. Show us a sample of your work.
This series of photographs was made in the Republic of Benin and imagines narratives that are inspired by the local animist traditions of the Vodun (voodoo) religion. Benin is the birthplace of voodoo, pre-dating many religions by more than 10,000 years, and there are groups that keep the tradition alive and strong. Vodun cosmology is based on the idea that spirits govern the natural and human world, and religious practices incorporate ceremonies that communicate with mythical gods. The basic tenet of voodoo stipulates the continuity of all things both visible and invisible in the universe, a belief in the interconnectedness of the living, spirit and natural world.
I have always been characterised as the other, whether I am too “African” to be European or too “European” to be African. In this unique positioning, I am interested in the politics of gaze — who is looking, who is being looked at, and the medium through which this looking occurs. Since the invention of photography, the camera has been a determining instrument for the construction and consolidation of the Western gaze. Colonial photography in the nineteenth century formed a visual imaginary of the dark continent and the exotic other, with a fetishistic interest in different bodies and customs. The inherent philosophy of photography is itself a Western concept, the notion that all can be proved and verified by direct visual sight.
The title of this series, Weke, means “the visible and invisible universe, all things created, living, breathing or not” in the local language of Benin. My images attempt to portray the concept of voodoo that cannot be depicted visually, hence cannot be depicted fully through photography: The camera isolates cultural practices and transforms them into visual forms. Instead, I construct my images with an awareness of the cultural gaze, of the fragmented information that one receives when tradition is alienated from its source.
2. What research is currently most informing your practice?
In my work I examine the representation of African identity through the Western imagination.
3. Which photograph are you obsessed with right now and why?
Uglyworldwide is so fresh & talented.
4. What video can you not stop watching?
5. Can you give us five links to things you think we should know about?
6. How many photos do you have right now on your phone? Please share one
…and feel free to give us some context if you feel like it.
2008 pictures in my iPhone – a painting by my great-grandfather.
7. Can you send us a pic of your desk/workspace?
8. What is the most coveted photo book you own and why?
Neue Welt, Taschen, Cologne, 2012 – Wolfgang Tillmans – brilliant composition and lecture through the image, page by page.
9. What concerns you?
We must be aware and protect our oceans – sharks too! A lot of fishermen kill them for their fins and some of them are endangered.
10. What makes you happy?
To feel free of my actions, to live my life the way I decided to. What I want is not to be in a dictator system.
About Namsa: Namsa Leuba (Switzerland, b. 1982) studied photography at ECAL, University of Art and Design Lausanne, and obtained a Masters in Art Direction at ECAL. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, including I-D, Numéro, KALEIDOSCOPE, Foam, Interview, Vice Magazine, New York Magazine, Wallpaper, Libération, British Journal of Photography, and European Photography. In 2010, Leuba won First Prize at the Planches Contact Festival in Deauville, France. In 2012, Leuba was awarded the PhotoGlobal Prize at the Photography Festival in Hyères. She was the winner of the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Festival in 2013. Namsa Leuba has participated in recent exhibitions including Photoquai in Paris, France; Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design at the Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain; Nataal: New African Photography at Redhook Labs, Brooklyn; Africa Reframed in Copenhagen, Denmark; Daegu Photo Biennale in Daegu, Korea; the Athens Photo Festival in Athens, Greece, and a performance in Off Print at the Tate Modern, London. Her work is included in prestigious private collections including the Swiss Foundation for Photography and the Tang Museum (New York). Leuba’s first large scale solo exhibition, Ethnomodern, was held at Art Twenty One in Lagos in 2016. Leuba lives and works between Africa and Europe.