Gallery Talks: Keyezua joins our all-female group show, Nataal: New African Photography III at Red Hook Labs

Much of Keyezua’s work focuses on representations of cultural identity, combined with issues of gender and shared personal experiences. The Luanda-based visual artist was born in Angola and raised in the Netherlands, where she studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. Her latest project, Fortia (2017), featuring men in blood-red ballgowns wearing full-face masks posed against craggy desert rocks, incorporates photography, text and audio, and explores her emotions about the death of her father. Here she speaks on women's voices and the celebration of life through loss.

You produced Fortia as a homage to your father’s disability, can we discuss this?
“Fortia” is a Latin word for strength. My father had both of his legs amputated in the last years of his life because of a sickness. I lost my father very young, and by talking about this I wanted to interact with other people that were going through the same type of experiences. I also wanted to explore disability in a very different way, because the images that I'd been looking for online, just to understand what my father was going through, existed as an NGO image or an image of pity or sadness. In the last days of my father’s life I could see that there was something more meaningful, more beautiful than that.

What do the masks symbolise in the images?
Traditionally African masks were made for rituals and have specific uses. For this project, each mask was handmade especially by a group of disabled male artists, and each one relates to certain points in my life when I had the most difficulty growing up. You have one mask that says, ‘This is not a funeral, this is life,’ which is about the moment I understood that when someone dies, there is still a lot of their life left on this earth. The emotions that stay, the happiness that stays; the things that you learned with the person. I went through this process of thinking that if this mask should exist, it should have meaning and be part of a new ritual.

You've talked before about “breaking the prejudice against Africa through the media”. What is the role of photography in this?
As a photographer I try to be very careful about the images that I create because I don't want to contribute to the negative images of Africa. When a work is exhibited, you are starting a conversation and confronting visitors with the things you want to talk about. There is no such thing as ‘African photography’ – my images come from my perspective as an Angolan, Dutch, female artist telling stories that need to be put out there. We don’t need the recognition of CNN or a politician to be seen and heard.

The #metoo campaign is starting to filter through Africa, what do you think about this?
It's difficult to talk about these issues in Angola because the campaign is much more active in countries that speak English. But as a Portuguese-speaking country, we are also making noises about the rights of women at the moment and women feel more able to protest. Now that it is easier to visit Angola because of visa requirement changes, I believe this also permits us to continue to develop what we understand as a #metoo campaign.

So what's next?
Now that Black Panther is out, people are a lot more curious about Africa and asking, ‘What is this Wakanda about?’ I want to continue to be a contributor of positive images from my part of the continent, and to hopefully continue to have conversations outside of my comfort zone in the countries where it is needed the most.

Nataal: New African Photography III runs from 4 to 13 May at Red Hook Labs, 133 Imlay St, Brooklyn, NY, open 10am-6pm daily

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Published on 02/04/2018