Accompanying the first solo exhibition of Swiss Guinean artist Namsa Leuba at The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston, Crossed Looks features Leuba’s major projects to date, including photography series in Guinea, South Africa, Nigeria and Benin, and the debut of a new series recently made in Tahiti.
More information about the exhibition and the book is below.
As a photographer working across documentary, fashion, and performance, Namsa Leuba’s images explore the fluid visual identity of the African diaspora. With a dual heritage between Guinea and Switzerland, Leuba draws inspiration from her own experience growing up between two different cultural traditions.
Leuba’s images are influenced by the Animist traditions of her mother’s family in Guinea Conakry, and the visual codes of statues, masquerades, and religious ceremonies in West Africa. They are also inspired by contemporary fashion and design. The result is a unique perspective that straddles reality and fantasy. She re-stages and constructs narrative scenes in collaboration with her sitters, incorporating bold colors, striking patterns, and intricate clothing and props. Leuba often uses models that she informally meets in the street, who become active collaborators in the portraits.
Leuba’s photographs pose fundamental questions about the medium of photography and its role in forming our understanding of the cultural “Other.” Leuba states: “I have always been characterized 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 the gaze—who is looking, who is being looked at, and the medium of which this looking occurs.”
Leuba has continued her focus in challenging the visual representation of the cultural other in her newest series, Illusions, created in Tahiti. After living in Tahiti for over two years, Leuba collaborated with a group of transgender youths to re-stage imagery reminiscent of the “Primitivist” paintings of Paul Gauguin and “tropical” images in modern art. The series poses an ideological assault to the symbolism of Gauguin’s paintings in Tahiti, which fetishized the indigenous female body and its myths of exoticism.
Through her photographs, Leuba ultimately searches for a visual sense of belonging, of finding a vocabulary that speaks to the experiences and perspectives of not fitting in one ready-made mold. The title of the book and exhibition, Crossed Looks, references this diverse perspective, creating an alternative visual proposition that transcends fixed modes of representation.
The exhibition will open on August 27th and be on view until December 11th. Namsa Leuba: Crossed Looks is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, and Garden & Gun Magazine.