We can no longer find ourselves in one singular narrative, but in many (sometimes conflicting) narratives. We exist in between debates, in between meanings, in between abstract binary opposites and perhaps we even revel in this. [i]
The Swimmers is an ongoing collection of portraits photographed in various natural and urban landscapes around the world. Through this series, I respond to the impacts of globalization and the aftermath of colonial struggles in my home continent, Africa, and elsewhere; exploring the links between space, identity and how we think of home. I am interested in what seems to be a global shift in the way that we perceive ourselves in space: a condition characterized by a persistent awareness of foreignness, and a search for belonging that cannot be tied to one fixed geographical or ideological place. Displacement is one of the defining traits of our generation; for movement across continents—be it physical or virtual—now permeates the way that we interact with the world.
The Swimmers acts as a whimsical documentation of a newly evolved human, one who could exist in an ever-more complex space between ‘here’ and ‘there.’ The ocean becomes a metaphor for everything fluid and in-between.
The construction of a portrait archive enables me to investigate, highlight, and parody my medium’s part to play in the production of identity. Historically, the photographic archive has functioned as a means to categorize and classify, and in the same vein as science, visual art—or representation—is way to bring the world into control. Through role-play I attempt to understand this persistent impulse towards structure. At the same time, I aim to destabilize the structure itself: playing with the fictive process, I consciously project my own imagined desires on to a group of characters. While these photographs may be considered portraits, there is no attempt to accomplish the genre’s traditional aims, that being to capture the sitter’s ‘personality.’ The people in my images function as signs, merely offering instances of an imaginary collective psyche caught up in the instability of our time.
Long before embarking on this series, I experienced an uncontrollable desire to stand at the shoreline and look outwards on the dissolving of limits that separate me from those I love. This literal struggle—with the seeming impossibility of departures, arrivals or re-unions—became the driving force for these images. If the ocean is both the barrier and the passage, the swimmers are those caught in that liminal space, where borders are constantly erased and redrawn.
[i] Stuart Hall in “Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities”. In L. Back & J. Solomos (eds.). Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge