Vibrant Textiles and Repurposed Eyewear Camouflage the Subjects of Thandiwe Muriu’s Celebratory Portraiture
From chunky hair beads and rollers to sink strainers and brake pedals, Nairobi-based photographer Thandiwe Muriu (previously) finds fashionable use for ordinary objects. Worn as glasses that obscure a subject’s identity, the repurposed items add cultural flair to Muriu’s vibrant portraits and are connected to both her background and Kenyan life, more broadly. Red fringe evokes the tassel that hung from her uncle’s Toyota Corolla, which transported the artist home from school each day, while the orange plastic drain catcher references the joy found in sharing chores. She explains:
In Kenya, when a group of friends meet, the women usually gather in the kitchen to clean up after the meal is done, and as is part of Kenyan culture, wash the piles of dishes by hand. This routine task suddenly becomes a moment of laughter and stories as the women mingle and bonds are reinforced…(The portrait) celebrates the African spirit of community as it turns humble sink strainers into bright circles of joy.
Shot against bold fabric backdrops printed with dizzying patterns, Muriu’s works conceal her subjects’ bodies under perfectly aligned garments, leaving only their heads and hands visible. The photographs are part of her ongoing CAMO series, which explores how culture both creates and consumes individual identities. Incorporating rich color palettes and traditional architectural hairstyles, Muriu celebrates her African heritage while questioning beauty standards and self-perception.
Some of the photographer’s portraits are on view this month at Photo London 2022 and at 1-54 Fair in New York. In July, she’ll have a solo show with 193 Gallery at the new Maison Kitsuné Gallery in New York, as well. You can explore the full CAMO series on her site and Instagram.
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Celebrating Kenyan Culture, Bold Textile Patterns Disguise Subjects in Thandiwe Muriu’s Portraits
What began as a simple appreciation of fabrics printed with vibrant geometries and hypnotic motifs has morphed into a stunning celebration of African culture. Thandiwe Muriu’s ongoing Camo series cloaks models in arresting garments that disguise them in textile surroundings, leaving just their hands and faces visible. “When I source fabrics, I look for something that I can look at and it almost feels alive,” she says. “Something bold, slightly confusing on the eyes, and less traditional. In my images, the fabric acts as the backdrop that I can celebrate my culture on. It is a bright, welcoming canvas that I can highlight what I love about my fellow Kenyan people.”
From the printed clothing to the subject’s accessories and hairstyles, each image is layered with references to the Nairobi-based photographer’s daily life and a sense of resourcefulness that permeates the local culture. Common items like bottle tops, mosquito coils, bicycle gears, straws, and cleaning brushes become elaborate eyewear or decorative additions to historical “architectural hairstyles that are being forgotten,” she tells Colossal. “Our natural hairstyles as Africans/Kenyans are one of the unique things about our beauty culture that I wouldn’t want to see lost, so I incorporate it into my work to spark conversation around traditional hairstyles and how we can wear them today.”
Muriu, who works in commercial advertising by day, shares that Camo is an ironic exploration into the relationship between personal and collective identities. The visually striking portraits are “commentary on how as individuals, we can lose ourselves to the expectations culture has on us, yet there are such unique and beautiful things about every individual,” Muriu says. “I wanted to celebrate everything I had struggled with in my own beauty journey—my hair, my skin, and my identity as a modern woman in a traditional culture.”
To see the complete collection, head to Muriu’s site and Instagram. You also might enjoy Cecilia Paredes’s self-portraits. (via Supersonic Art)
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New Sculptural Eyewear Produced From Salvaged Street Metal and Found Objects by Cyrus Kabiru
Self-taught Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru (previously) fashions extravagant eyewear from pieces of found metal and other salvaged materials on the streets of his hometown of Nairobi. Kabiru has been building his futuristic glasses since childhood and dedicates much of his time to producing works for his C-Stunner series of eyeglasses and coordinating photographs. Recently Kabiru has begun to expand his work to include large non-body-based sculptures, installations, and collage.
Kabiru’s practice is deeply tied to Afrofuturism, a genre that combines science fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction with the culture and politics of the African diaspora. His work was featured in the newly released Gestalten publication Africa Rising: Fashion, Design and Lifestyle from Africa. You can see more of his eyewear and larger sculptures on Artsy and SMAC.
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Kenyan Artist Digs Through Electronic Refuse and Found Metal to Create Dazzling Sculptural Eyewear
Digging through electronic refuse and found metal in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, Cyrus Kabiru refashions found materials into different wearable forms. Often these take the form of flamboyantly composed glasses, large eyewear that can often mask the entire face.
Kabiru explains that his glasses obsession started at a young age, and blossomed as his father crushed his dreams of owning his own pair. “When I was young, I used to admire real glasses but my dad was a bit harsh and he never wanted me to have real glasses. That’s the reason I started making the glasses.”
His creations situate themselves in several different areas of art, shuffling between performance, sculpture, and fashion—embodying the playfulness of the youth generation in Nairobi. “When you walk in town and you see someone with my glasses, the glasses will [get] all your attention,” said Kabiru. “If you have any stress it is like a therapy.”
In addition to his found object sculptures and glasses, Kabiru is a self-taught painter, his subject matter being humorous portrayal of contemporary Kenyan life. His most recent series uses thousands of bottle caps sewn together to depict African nature. “I really love trash. I try to give trash a second chance. I change it to be something else, which is like it will stay for more than 100 years now.” (via prosthetic knowledge)
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.