Friday, December 9

Fabrice Monteiro’s best photography: a spirit emerges from a garbage dump in Senegal | Art and Design

OROutside of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, there is a garbage dump with its own name: Mbeubeuss. The land on which it sits was once a flat swamp. It started as a landfill in 1968; Today, it is a mountain of garbage. It has accumulated so much plastic waste from the city that to get there you have to drive down a compacted garbage road.

This is not the Africa I grew up in. When I was a kid here in the seventies and eighties, it wasn’t like that. But when I came back in 2012, I was surprised by what I found. Here in Senegal, there was plastic waste everywhere: on the roadsides, in the trees, everywhere. The younger generation knows nothing different: now it is just part of their environment. I decided that I wanted to film a series to raise awareness about environmental problems in Senegal, in the hope that people would realize that things don’t have to be this way. I wanted to connect environmental problems with the cultural interests of the population and began to investigate animism, the belief that objects and the natural world are imbued with spirits.

Animism is connected to nature: it was about praising nature in all its different elements, working with it, not against it, and living in harmony with it. Much of that was lost with globalization and the modern way of life. With this series, he wanted to create a series of spirits sent by Mother Earth to warn humanity about their abandonment and destruction of the environment.

Each of the shots in the series addresses an environmental concern: coastal erosion, oil spills, sanitation, and the burning of land for agriculture, for example. But this image, the first one I took for the series, was about plastic consumption.

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I had the idea to make a dress that was a continuation of the garbage mountain, so it seemed like this spirit was emerging from the garbage piles. I collaborated with a Senegalese stylist named Doulsy who had been working with recycled materials and can sew pretty much anything – he was the perfect person to create this costume. He needed to have a sense of scale: the model is sitting on a barrel of oil to give the figure that height. We wanted to strike a balance between working with abandoned materials and doing something that looked like a fashion editorial.

But more than anything, this image is a message: the model holds a child’s wrist, looking at the rubble. It represents future generations who are condemning an environmental catastrophe through our excessive consumption.

At first, I only intended to do 10 images. They were all going to be shot in Senegal and distributed to the people here. But I felt uneasy when the job was done: I felt like I was drawing attention to Africa for the wrong reasons. I was concerned that it would make the continent look exceptionally polluted, as if this is not a problem worldwide. The only reason Europe doesn’t look like this is because it sends us its waste.

So I continued the series, filming all over the world, from Australia and the destruction of coral reefs to the United States and the damage done by coal mining. My work is about unity, about revealing the ways in which we are all connected, with each other and with nature. Taking this series globally helped to achieve this.

My work has always been a mixture of different things, a kind of fusion of different disciplines and cultures that is denoted in the French word. of mixed race. I am European and I am African. I grew up in a culture heavily influenced by voodoo, while also reading western comics. I am a fashion photographer but also an industrial engineer. My work represents all of that.

In everything I do, I am interested in identity and how we separate ourselves from those we consider the “other.” Throughout history, humanity has created an idea of ​​the other to justify its exploitation. It is an idea that was central to slavery and colonialism. But it is also at the heart of our approach to the environment. Just because we consider ourselves separate from the natural world, or superior to it, can we continue to treat it this way.

Today, people speak of the age of the Anthropocene – a geological term for a time when nature is being fundamentally changed by humanity. But it suggests that humanity as a whole, not the specific capitalist system we have created, is the problem. In fact, it is the system that is the problem and the system that must be opposed.

Photographer Fabrice Monteiro.
Fabrice Monteiro. Photography: Marcia Juzga

Fabrice Monteiro’s CV

Born: Namur, Belgium, 1972.
Trained: Autodidact.
Influences: Alexander McQueen, Malcolm Ferdinand.
Decisive point: “Realize that I can earn a living from my creative work.”
Low point: “Work on environmental issues and understand how serious the situation is. It scares me.”
Better advice: “Always try to explore off limits.”

Fabrice Monteiro has been shortlisted for Prix ​​Pictet Award, to be announced on December 15. The work of the 12 shortlisted artists will be in the V&A, London, starting December 16.

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