New Sapeurs Photography Explores Dandy Activism Among Congolese Men – Advocate.com

French photojournalist Aude Osnowycz explores the political movement of La Sape in her series “The New Sapeurs.” La Sape, a movement of fashion and politics inspired by European dandies, was born at the start of the 20th century as a statement against colonial powers.
 
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.
The movement’s members, Sapeurs, are part of the Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People.
“The New Sapeurs” examines the paradox embodied by these individuals and their dress. “This series aims to highlight the role that Sapeurs play in their struggle against their predicament,” Osnowycz says. While they dress rich, they live in one of the poorest countries in the world.
The Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People, therefore, offers an extraordinary spectacle, according to Osnowycz.
La Sape’s style was at one point thought to be too Western by the late DRC dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who outlawed it.
Now Sapeur families are like celebrities, Osnowycz says, and the Sapeurs bring hope to a population that’s been ravaged by years of violence. Though it may seem over-the-top to spend money looking so posh in a country where most citizens live in poverty, there’s more to it. The outfits are a way for individuals to forget common problems and to rebel against the country’s colonial history and the citizens’ everyday economic hardships.
“I chose to focus on the Performers of Kinshasa with my series ‘The New Sapeurs,’ because this subject allows me to combine a very aesthetic image as well as to denounce the political and social problems which undermine and disintegrate the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Osnowycz says.
The photographer explains that in the DRC homosexuality is a crime. “So these boys dressed in a sexy way with skirts and showing their body is also kind of provocation. These young people worship their body, their appearance, their clothes.”
Osnowycz’s previous work has included examining the militarization of children on Russia’s European borders as well as the Putin generation. Osnowycz also worked in her birth country of Ukraine for projects on Slavic identity. For years, Osnowycz has traveled to Africa and the Caribbean, and she has spent significant time in North Africa.
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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