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The work of photographer Fabrice Monteiro occupies a rich space that overlaps genres. Photo-reportage, fashion photography and portraiture combine and collide to stage provocative scenes in the artist’s own image — a Beninese-Belgian whose heritage has nurtured an interest “in the evolution of black identity through history.” His thematic concerns are similarly compound — at times synergistic, at times disparate — drawing on West African traditions, global modernities and Afro-Atlantic histories of colonization and slavery.
Monteiro’s polished aesthetic is able to bear the paradoxes inherent in his subject matter: beauty and horror, opulence and atrocity, repressed memory and pressing current affairs. This is vividly illustrated in his series The Prophecy, where universal, mythic figures are reimagined in the imagery of West African masqueraders, heralding a cry against the degradation of their respective environments. In these photographs, Eurocentric traditions of portraiture and landscape are radically revised, and stereotypes of Africa both evoked and undercut, as globally relevant issues are addressed from an Afrocentric perspective.
What motivates your environmental art?
When I came to live in Senegal, I realized that one of the main issues when it comes to environmental behavior is the lack of education. I came up with the idea of creating an illustrated tale for kids based on strong African beliefs. The story is the following: Mother Earth, sick and tired of human behavior toward the planet, decides to send her spirits down to earth, have them appearing to the humans and delivering a message of awareness and empowerment.
What is your vision for an African future?
The future of Africa will be connected to the future of the rest of the world. In the next 50 years, humanity is probably going to confront environmental issues like never before. This ultimate challenge will force us to interrogate our priorities and what we want for future generations. It shall give the majority the will to create an alternative to ethnocentrism and overconsumption.
How can aesthetics drive causes?
The power of images speak to everyone. You can be illiterate and understand art because it speaks to the heart. Art definitely has a role to play in the future of our world. As an artist, I take it as my responsibility.