9 October 2018

Congo-Kinshasa: Hair Politics and Local Food Through the Lens of Robert Nzaou-Kissolo

Photo: Robert Nzaou-Kissolo
Hair by Robert Nzaou-Kissolo

Congolese photographer Robert Nzaou Kissolo is known for documenting life from a unique perspective. His hair politics series, done in 2016, and his current Congo delicacies series are peculiar, avant-garde and breathtaking all at once.

Congolese photographer Robert Nzaou-Kissolo discovered his passion late in life when he realised the power images had. He made a shift from hip-hop blogging to street photography, aiming to capture human interaction in various spaces. He has been documenting daily life on the streets of Congo's second biggest city, Pointe Noire, ever since.

"Photography has taught me to see, not just to look, to observe and to be patient. I used to browse and not pay much attention to my surroundings or what was happening around me. Since I started taking pictures I have been forced to slow down because that is the only way you can be in the moment. I started seeing beauty everywhere. I became interested in life, I discovered that every human being is special, every place has a story to tell and nature works in harmony with the beauty of light," he said in interview with successness.com.

In 2016 he did a thought-provoking project titled "Salon de Coiffure", a series that tried to understand the reason Congolese girls grow up hating their natural kinks.

In an interview with 10and5.com, Kissolo blamed the media for this: "Our media is still predominantly Western-driven, from news reports, movies, series [and] Caucasian looks are still seen as better. It's hard, if not impossible, to undo a belief when you are seeing the images all around you."

"Believe it or not," he went on, "women with natural hair are seen as lower-class citizens because, according to society, the only reason they don't have fake hair is because they can't afford it. The higher the position, the more likely they are to wear expensive weaves."

The series was personally charged from Kissolo's observation of his niece's struggle to navigate hair politics, prompting him to participate in a dialogue that most men find frivolous.

Now, two years later, the avant-garde photographer has created another conversational series. The artist told Africa News that his new project, titled Madia ya bwala, which means "our local food" or "local meals" in the Kituba language was created to highlight the country's traditional foods.

"Madia ya bwala - the Congolese know what this means. It's the food from home, it's the food we love a lot. But it is also the food that we don't want to see in our luxury restaurants, or in luxury hotels. So there is a contradiction. The idea that came to me was to value our food; to put it forward. But we had to find a way to do it. And it's not always easy. We could have taken food, fruit, and put them on a table and taken a picture. But this is different. It's food you love but when you're in town you don't want to see it," said the photographer.

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