Arts + Culture

Paul Sika: The Ivorian Photographer With ‘Visions Of Things To Come’

Interview with pioneering Ivorian photographer Paul Sika, a new voice in African photography whose work blends photography and filmmaking.

*Interview by Derica Shields


Ivorian photographer Paul Sika has birthed his very own style. He calls it 'photomaking' and combines digital photography with painterly post-production to produce brightly-coloured, densely textured images teeming with energy and drama. Born in 1985, he travelled to the UK to study Software Engineering, in the hopes of making video games — that was the dream until he had an epiphany while watching the trailer for The Matrix Reloaded. He purchased a camera, began taking photographs and moved back to Abidjan where a burgeoning arts scene always provides inspiration and a cast of young creative people contribute to his photographic practice.

In contrast to the established tradition of West African studio photography, Paul Sika's richly imagined images are dense with highly saturated colour and bodies striking exaggerated poses. His aim is to force the viewer into an unfamiliar headspace, in which a new conversation — quite outside the ordinary — can begin. So when Sika said that he hoped, with his work to give "visions of things to come," we began to understand just what he meant. Flick through the gallery above and read on to learn more about Paul Sika's global influences; his unique concept 'photomaking'; a guide to the Abidjan arts scene and understand the importance he places on critical engagement with African photography.

OKA: Have you always been creative?

Paul Sika: I'm naturally inclined towards creativity. Since I was a kid I've been fascinated by storytelling, but I didn't realize or put it into words until later. I simply had not conceived of it as being creativity. But I loved doodling and my cousin and I would invent stories to tell each other before sleep using characters inspired by people at school.

OKA: What made you switch from studies in Software Engineering to photography? 

PS: One day I was walking down Tottenham Court Road and saw a trailer for Matrix 2: Reloaded. Mesmerized, I thought to myself that if this was the type of imagination required to make great movies, then I was well equipped. I was glad to change direction because I thought of filmmaking as a great avenue of creative expression, and a more suitable avenue than making video games, which was the reason I was enrolled on a Software Engineering course. Not wanting to stop my engineering studies, I bought a camera and started experimenting with the static image which I conceptualized as the unit of the moving picture. Surprised by the vastness of the medium, I remained in the field of photography.

OKA: Was your family encouraging?

PS: My family didn't encourage or support me in the beginning. They were wondering what I was trying to do. But the situation became an indirect opportunity for me to sharpen my determination, perseverance, resilience and other qualities that I needed to realize my dream. Today, my parents understand what I am doing. As it became clearer to them, support naturally sprung up. It has happened gradually. I'll use the opportunity to say thanks to my mother and my sister, my two ladies; they have done so much for me.

*Paul Sika, from the 'Dandelia' series

OKA: Why do you prefer the term 'photomaker' to photographer? Do you see your work pushing at the boundaries of the photographic medium?

PS: Photomaking is a term I coined by combining PHOTOgraphy and filmMAKING. It underscores the fact that my photography is heavily influenced by filmmaking. I think of myself as a motion picture director using a still photo camera. In terms of goal, my method is not to push boundaries, but to express my imagination to its fullest and tell beautiful stories.

OKA: Can you describe your technical process? Has it become more systematic over the years?

PS: Influenced by filmmaking, my technical process starts with imagining the story, which I then write down as a script. I break that script down into sequences which eventually become photos. Then I cast models and we rehearse if needed. After that comes principal photography, which produces the digital stills I use in post-production. And finally I apply a layer of digital painting to create the look necessary to effectively tell the story. This process has streamlined over time as I gained more experience.

OKA: Your works are based on digital stills, but the final images are these vivid 'technicolour dreamscapes' that look almost like paintings. Why do you choose to work in such bold, bright colours and create these more painterly images?

PS: Colour is an element of my story-telling as important as the shapes of objects and lighting of the scene.  It reflects the essence of the story I'm telling and helps foster a certain mood. The colours I use also grab people's attention: in a busy world where we move fast and are bombarded by visual, audio and other sensory stimuli, they shout at the viewer's mind, and work to create the fraction of silence in the observer necessary to start the conversation.

OKA: There's a strong tradition of studio photography in Francophone West Africa (Sidibe, Keita, Mama Casset), do you see your work as part of that tradition? Often your images are crowded with people, shot outdoors and look like stills from a play or movie. What are your photographic references or influences?

PS: Just like a sailor searching for a grand treasure, I've taken the direction which will lead me to the fulfillment of my vision of art and photomaking. Thus my positioning has been orchestrated in accordance with my own cherished destination rather than relative to the people who have travelled before me.

Regarding influences, the world of filmmaking started it all: The Matrix and Star Wars particularly. Years of video games introduced me to various aesthetics I love: Zelda, Mario Bros, Street Fighter, Tekken, Capcom VS SNK 2. Comic books and animation, be they from Japan, Europe or Africa, must also get credit: Le Journal de Mickey, Lucky Luke (Morris, Goscinny), Dragon Ball Z (Toriyama) and some of the anime directed by Hayao Miyazaki have been influential In terms of painters, although I'm more interested in single pieces than whole bodies of work, Eugene Delacroix, Michelangelo, and Gauguin come to mind.

OKA: What kinds of representations of Cote d'Ivoire/Abidjan are you trying to create with your photography? What kinds of stories do you want to tell?

PS: Recalling my conscious wish to be a filmmaker and photographer, my first goal is to tell beautiful stories that will contribute to the positive transformation and evolution of the human being. Cote d’Ivoire and Abidjan influence the language I use to tell those stories: they constitute a visual dictionary from which I take unique object-words to formulate the unique visual phrases that make up my stories. There is an entire language developed in my work using them, which could be the object of study.

*Paul Sika, from the 'Puneu Puneu' series. Character Joue Rose (Pink Chick) in a deep state of reflection and analysis that will lead him to the next phase of his life

OKA: In your interview with CNN you talk about wanting to show 'happiness, hope' and 'positivity' in your images. You also say that your work does not just aim to show people in a 'flattering' way but 'in ways that are real'. Why is that distinction - between 'flattering' and 'real' - important to you?

PS: Flattery is related to insincerity and falsification which are the complete opposite of my way, and by extension, of the way of the Artist. As a visual communicator and a storyteller my role and function is to shatter the deceits and illusions of life while relating things as they are, and offer visions of the things to come. Thus the happiness, hope and positivity which emanate from my work are truthful representations of what is. The purpose of my work is to bring balance.

OKA: Recently the international media has been discussing Ivorian art and the Abidjan arts scene in light of the 2010-11 post-election crisis. How was the arts scene impacted by the upheaval?

PS: The post-election crisis was the last Great Event in Cote d'Ivoire, therefore it's understandable that there is a reference to this deathly period when speaking of the Renaissance of Art. When Cote d'Ivoire creates more joyful events as a nation, references will eventually be made to those. The arts scene was impacted by the upheaval. Many projects were cancelled or delayed because of the instability. I had been chosen as the art director for TED x ABIDJAN but in the end, the event didn't happen.

*Paul Sika, from the Fouka Riddim series

OKA: Can you describe the Abidjan arts scene? How would you like to see it change or grow in terms of galleries, funding sources, buyers etc.?

PS: The Abidjan arts scene is at a younger stage compared to older and greater scenes such as New York City. However, a beautiful and accelerated growth is being initiated and sustained. New players are arriving and older participants are adopting new directions. We have for example the Donwahi Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Cécile Fakhoury Gallery which are world class exhibition spaces. Young collectors, nationals and internationals, are engaging in relationships with the scene. We can cite for example Frederic Tapé, a media and real estate entrepreneur. A critic I admire for his capacity to decode and explain art is Franck-Hermann Ekra who won first prize of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).

The scene is burgeoning and teeming. And regarding the growth of the Ivorian art world, I’m convinced we are going to witness the type of revolution that the soccer world has known with the generation of players such as Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré, Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Eboué.

*Paul Sika, from the 'Gloglo Gospel' series

OKA: Which Abidjan/Ivorian artists are producing work that you admire/think deserves more attention?

PS: In music: the singers O’New expand=1]Raymond, Mike Danon, Flora Ba and producers Nunshack aka Abdul-Said Sangaré. In film and theatre look out for Abass Zein, actor Certain Kouassi, director Jean-Vincent Digbé, the Children and Young people's Theater Company CEB AFRIKA. I've worked with Nader Fakhry's fashion line Fouka Riddim. Also look out for illustrators Frederick Denaf, and Charles Dadié of Delestron fame.

OKA: Can you tell us about future projects or plans?

PS: At The Heart of Me, my photo and prose book was released last month and became an Amazon art bestseller. Originally written in English, I plan to make it available in several other languages. Currently, the French version is ready and will be released soon. The Italian translation is also in the works. Anyone interested in translating can contact me; it will be a pleasure to exchange about it!

Arts + Culture

This Stunning Series of Self-Portraits Explores Love And The Concept of Letting Go

Cape Town photographer Meet The Internet shares a few images from her exhibition.

Cape Town photographer Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana, who is known online as "Meet The Internet," does not take the topic of love lightly. "Most of us rushed into it," she says, "and we started dating without understanding what love is."

Her latest photography series, Love Through My Eyes is, is a reflection on how people around her deal with love, from staying in toxic relationships because they fear being alone, to those who build walls around themselves in fear of heartbreak and are hence unlovable.

"We come from broken families," says Ngqoyiyana. "Some with no fathers at all, so we go out yearning to be loved by a man and pray for better experiences than what we see our mothers go through. We get our fair share of hurt, we watch people come to our lives, we share our bodies with them and when it's enough for them they leave. We even start understanding and forgiving the cycle."

This cycle is reflected in the photos. In most of them, the color red is prevalent, symbolic for love. And the main subject, which is the photographer herself, is elusive, hiding her face either with a mask or red ropes, which could symbolize the blinding effect of love and how it can suffocate you.

Ngqoyiyana wants the images to focus on both sides of love. "I like the concept of balloons," she says, "because from a young age it kinda teaches us the concept of holding on to something and letting go. Obviously letting go is never fun, hence we cried when we would see our balloons fly away."

Ngqoyiyana got into photography by taking behind the scenes photos in music video sets. Her first gig as a photographer was a matric ball, and she recently started directing music videos.

The photos for Love Through My Eyes took "roughly three weeks" to make, and are all self-portraits. A confessed shy person, for a long time Ngqoyiyana wasn't happy with her appearance. "I can be whoever I want to be with self-portraits, and I am not so conscious about the way I look," she says.

"When I started taking pictures I was at a stage in my life where I was depressed and anxious, because I didn't have a career, and with no tertiary education," says Ngqoyiyana. "I felt I was "wasting away," she says. "Self-portraits were more of an escape, or a 'pretend like I am doing more than I actually am.' But after seeing the reception on the Internet, I did more."

Love Through My Eyes ran for a day on the 10th of November in Observatory, Cape Town. As a result of the amazing reception, says Ngqoyiyana, more prints of her work are on the way.

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana


Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Follow Meet The Internet on Instagram and Facebook.

Video
Blinky Bill 'Don't Worry.' Source: Youtube.

Watch Blinky Bill's New Video for 'Don't Worry'

The Nairobi producer releases the humorous visuals for his second single.

Blinky Bill dropped his long-awaited debut album, Everyone's Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales, last month and it's clearly been well received by fans in Kenya and all over the world.

His latest music video for the hard-hitting single "Don't Worry" was filmed in Detroit and directed by his usual collaborators Osborne Macharia, Andrew Mageto and Kevo Abbra.

Blinky prances around Detroit's Heidelberg Project—an outdoor art installation created to support the surrounding area's community—lighting up the vibe of this aggressive song.

"The song is called Don't Worry and I feel like the vibe we created with the visuals is in tune with the spirit of the song, which is just about staying in your lane and minding your business," the Kenyan artist mentions. "I like that it takes a song that is serious and aggressive and makes it a little more fun."

This video is an instant mood-lifter and definitely worth the view.

Watch Blinky Bill's new music video for "Don't Worry" below.

Keep reading... Show less
Video
Photo still via YouTube.

Falana's New Music Video for 'Ride or Die' Is a Must-Watch

The Nigerian singer returns with her first single in 4 years in this Daniel Obasi-directed work of art.

Falana couldn't let the year wrap up without making a statement.

The Toronto-raised Nigerian singer recently dropped the music video "Ride or Die"—her first single in 4 years—directed by Daniel Obasi.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.