Showing at this year’s Lagos Photo, which begins this week, is Fortia: a breath-taking series of images in which a masked black woman, poses stunningly in a red dress. Keyezua, the artist, is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague, Netherlands and is returning to Lagos Photo for the second year running. She sees herself as a storyteller, currently reinventing herself to tell the day-to-day stories of women around the world that make her uncomfortable to remain silent.
Identity formations within and beyond her own binational Angolan-Dutch identity, and as a woman, are a cross cutting theme in all of her work. She eschews the role of being a casual observer in a world that is going through fundamental social, economic and political changes and wants to use her platform to make things right in her own way. She spoke to Eric Otieno of GRIOT mag ahead of the Lagos showcase, revealing why Fortia was necessary:
“Fortia is the Latin word for force, so it means force. I used the Latin word for it, and I will explain why: One of the definitions that I used…in a book that I read, Fortia meant a work of art, probably a weapon of force. I wanted to create a weapon of force but in a very poetic way. Initially, of course, the mind of the viewer might immediately connect these images to contemporary portraits of the black body as portrayed by artists that celebrate Blackness and Africa in images of fashion. I had no fear however to continue to explore Fortia in a very honest way. As an artist i don't try to make work that is ‘artistically correct’ and that can gives the viewer the message behind the work immediately in the first reading. As the creator of Fortia, my first thought is wait a minute...hold on to your first thoughts and explore the images and your emotions with me!”
“There is a certain image we connect to everything, to love, to happiness, to marriage, and I wanted to create an image for someone to take home and have hope, to take home and have discussions about it, to agree and to disagree in the way that I decided to explore this topic. I wanted to create something that wouldn’t be considered to be what people were expecting, to be good for the likings of others. It needed to bring discomfort, it needed to be something that one could talk about so that we can challenge our minds not to immediately create these sad images about physical disability. It is a very difficult conversation but hopefully these images will give the viewer a new way of visualizing it.”
“I didn’t do much research. I took my life experience and tried several times to portray it in masks, to make it a symbol to that which connects each mask to a ritual; where I as a daughter guide the spirits, memories and emotions to rest, to finally rest. First it was in honor of my father, but it is now ...( I wanted to say hopefully but let's just pick the good immediately for the future)… I want Fortia to grow into an image that honours each person that battles with an emotional reaction to physical disability and to empower them, to make them rethink things that they can create to economically emotionally and physically empower them, and give them the power to reconstruct their lives without depending on charity.”
On the Power of positive Images
“It reminds me of a time, a very long time ago when my father lost both of his legs, I started to cry so loud, I could not find peace, i kept asking God why, Why God? I remember questioning while creating a cocoon under the dinner table and I could not stop crying because of the images that I attached to this physically disabled man which were sad, dark, and not empowering me as the daughter of a man that was about to lose both of his legs. I was not strong enough to accept. And day by day, my father gave me the motivation to delete all of these images that we normally see when we hear the news of death or loss or destroyed bodies through war or sickness. He educated me to create and see positive images always. I took this with me but I never ever let my emotions rest. In Fortia, as an artist I had the opportunity to do so.”
“All masks are handmade and designed by the artists. I designed them with a group of six men. In each line, a certain emotion, movement and image represent a part of me as the daughter of this man with a physical disability. The content is important because Fortia tries to bring a different reading to images by creating images that don’t immediately scream sorrow, loss and survival. I think that Fortia doesn’t immediately translate what it should and that is what I wanted to create. Even from history, each mask has a personal story attached to it. When I first arrived in Angola, an old man taught me that one should not just buy masks without knowing the history, without knowing the tribe, without knowing the ritual where it was used, without knowing who made it and why it was made. We often see images of African masks being hanged at homes or being used by African artists and there is a lack of story in it. If you question what was the task of this mask, why it exists, most people don’t know! People just buy it and hang it at home as part of an interior decor thing, which it's not. A mask doesn’t exist just to exist, it exists to portray the identity of the maker; to tell a story and to reconnect with our ancestors.”