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The Camo Series: Vibrant Geometries and Hypnotic Motifs Bring African Culture to Life

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All images © Thandiwe Muriu, shared with permission

Thandiwe Muriu is carving Kenya’s ancient designs into stunning portraits in a world where Kenyan culture has been obscured by war and poverty. In her Camo series, Muriu dresses models in incredible ensembles that conceal them in textiles, respectively, leaving just their hands and faces exposed. “When I’m looking for fabrics, I look for something that feels alive,” she adds. “Something distinctive, slightly perplexing to the eyes, and less conventional. The cloth serves as a backdrop for me to rejoice in my culture in my photographs. It’s vibrant, inviting canvas on which I can express what I love about my Kenyan counterparts.”

From the clothes to the subject’s accessories and haircuts, each shot is infused with references to the photographer’s daily existence and a sense of resourcefulness that is prevalent in Nairobi’s culture. Bottle tops, mosquito coils, bicycle parts, straws, and cleaning brushes are just a few examples of everyday items that become exquisite eyewear or ornamental components to ancient “architectural hairstyles that are being forgotten.” “As Africans/Kenyans, our natural haircuts are one of the distinctive elements of our beauty culture that I don’t want to see disappear, so I include it in my work to start a discussion about traditional hairstyles and how we may wear them today.”

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Muriu, a commercial advertising director by day, explains that Camo is an ironic look at the connection between personal and social identities. The visually stunning photographs are “commentary on how we can lose ourselves to the demands culture imposes on us, yet there are such amazing and beautiful things about everyone,” according to Muriu. “I wanted to commemorate everything I’d struggled with in my beauty journey—hair, skin, and self-definition as a modern woman in a traditional society.”

You can see the complete collection on Muriu’s website and Instagram. You could also like Cecilia Paredes’ self-portraits.

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