Untangling Ancestries, Tamary Kudita’s Remarkable Portraits Illuminate African Identities



History
Photography

#Africa
#fabric
#portraits
#Tamary Kudita

“Liberty.” All images © Tamary Kudita, shared with permission

Born in Zimbabwe, photographer Tamary Kudita traces her ancestry to the historical Orange Free Statea Dutch colonial region and home to the Boers in Southern Africa that was incorporated into the British Empire in the early 19th century. Kudita is fascinated by how “our unchosen histories” have shaped our identities and society today.

Since 2019, Kudita has trained her lens on Black figures, tapping into the historical and often violent erasure of African perspectives due to European colonization. She instead brings their heritage and presence to the fore. Through her ongoing series titled African Victorian and Birds of Paradisethe artist focuses on elaborate portraits, “illuminating once invisible bodies by making them hyper-visible.”

Kudita’s subjects don brightly patterned Dutch wax fabrics fashioned around hoop skirts or tailored into vests reminiscent of European aristocratic dress. “I explore the place of African fabric in the refashioning of cultural and gendered identities,” she says in a statement, “as well as its use as a vehicle with which to honour people’s histories and cultural expressions.”

In “Vessel,” for example, a headdress of pearls and a wooden ship nods to the colonial era of global exploration and trade, along with its much darker legacy of human enslavement. Or in “Liberty,” a woman in a metallic gown rides on horseback—a motif traditionally reserved for male subjects in art history and symbolic of the freedom to roam—and looks directly at the viewer. Kudita reinforces myriad African identities through her imaginary characters, inverting historical imagery and emphasizing empowerment and individuality.

She recently released a 30-page book of photographs titled Liberty, spanning work made between 2019 and 2023, which you can purchase on her website. Find more and follow updates on Instagram.

“Lotus”

Left: “Hair Tales.” Right: “Vessel”

“Roots II”

Left: “African Victorian II.” Right: “African Victorian VII” (2019)

“Your Carriage Awaits”

#Africa
#fabric
#portraits
#Tamary Kudita

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