AboutGasworks presents the first solo exhibition in the UK by award-winning Congolese photographer Baudouin Mouanda.
Focusing on the subcultures of urban Congo, Mouanda's work addresses how international forms of culture and their market-led dissemination impact upon the constitution of a local culture. His images offer an insight into the shifting aspirations of young people in modern day Congo, looking at their manners of self-expression and the ways in which they negotiate the day-to-day problems they encounter. From flamboyant Sapeurs to diligent students and the highly-politicised members of the Hip Hop scene, each of these works documents acts of determination or resistance in the face of common adversities.
La Sapologie (2008), the main body of work in the exhibition, looks at the lives of Sapeurs - members of the SAPE community (Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes àlégantes/Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People). Sapeurs have emerged in African and diasporic communities over the past 25 years and are often read as a post-colonial, 'globalised' take on the Parisian dandies of the late 18th and early 19th Century. Mostly young men, they parade about in extravagant designer clothes, carving out ostentatious identities through style, gestures and slang.
In a contrast that is further highlighted by the other works in the exhibition, the Sapeurs carefully construct a self-image that is greatly at odds with the conditions in which they live. Délestage (2010) and Sur le trotoir du savoir (2011), for instance, look at people's strategies for dealing with a collapsing energy infrastructure, whereas Hip Hop et societe (2009) grapples with matters of youth identity arising from the politically outspoken Hip Hop scenes of Libreville and Brazzaville. In presenting an uncommonly positive view of contemporary west Africa, these images show an awareness amongst young people of the leading role that they must play in the architecture of their own future.
The exhibition also includes recent studies of youth culture in the UK produced during Mouanda's residencies at Gasworks and Deveron Arts in Scotland.