Written by Stephanie Baptist
The work of visual artist Namsa Leuba is not easily definable. A conceptual master, Leuba examines themes of construction and deconstruction, through the use of unidentifiable locations, props, unique colours or configurations that may not have a lucid order. Leuba’s technique can be described as ‘elemental compositing’, as she dissembles cultural paradigms and re-builds them through staged interventions. As of late, her focus has been on African identity as viewed through a Western lens. The series Ya Kala Ben involved research of cultural practices and rituals from the region of Conakry, Guinea in West Africa. Defined as a ‘crossed look’ this provocative body of images presents masqueraded ceremonies, exorcism practices as well as local acrobats whose flexible bodies are contorted into unique forms.
The guarded distance between Leuba and her reinterpretation of ceremonial objects and practice, result in probing and confrontational dialogue. Visually pleasing, her colour palette consists of de-saturated hues and classical composition. As the viewer we are aware that we occupy an exploitative space. We are less astutely aware that she has art directed each many of the images, with local models wearing the unique costumes or artifacts.
I have studied ritual artifacts common to the cosmology of Guineans; statuettes that are part of a ceremonial structure. They are from another world, they are the roots of the living. Thereby, I sought to touch the untouchable. – Namsa Leuba
Her formative process encourages a conversation around that which is ‘normal’ in one culture, and that which becomes decidedly ‘the other’ as viewed by the West. Of dual ancestry, she is half Swiss and half Guinean, Leuba’s interpretations seem to mitigate her own experiences and delineate stereotypical projections often formulated from a Western perspective. In a Guinean framework, contextualising that which is invisible and or ‘cosmological symbols of a community, who traditionally have signification when used as part of rituals’ through human intervention and from a Westernized aesthetic was deemed a sacrilegious act.
The V.U.C.A. magazine, a point of departure for Leuba, explores architecture, design and interiors based on the theme of Ethno vs. Modern. A collaborative project between Leuba and Hugo Hoppman a graphic designer, that became the pair’s final graduate project for ECAL University. According to Leuba, V.U.C.A. is derived from a military term describing a certain situation or object that is “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous” and “became an important part to the direction of the project.” Hoppman, also created a unique sans-serif typeface named “V.U.C.A. Grotesque” as the terminology reflected both the concept and typeface for the magazine. The magazine presents composition, characteristics and unique culture through observations, photography as well as interviews.
A young photographer, the work of Namsa Leuba is both critically seasoned and refreshingly complex. Her work calls to mind that of contemporary artist Viviane Sassen for her ability to hover between that which is documentary and that which is composed. Like Sassen, Leuba’s enigmatic work centers on not just preconceived notions of Africa, from a Western view but the aesthetics of abstract configuration.
Namsa Leuba was born to a Guinean mother and an Helvetian father. She grew up on the shores of Neuchatel’s lake in Switzerland. In 2011, Leuba graduated from ECAL/University of art and design Lausanne, with a Bachelor in Photography. She was awarded the ECAL prize for her photographic work. In 2012 she received the Hyères Photo Global Prize of a one-year scholarship at the School of Visual Art in New York City.
Recent exhibitions include ”Last and First Men. Towards a New Anthropology” which was on view at the Armsden in London, from 13 -24 of June 2012.