Hector Mediavilla March 31, 2008Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in DR Congo.
Tags: Brazzaville, DR Congo, Hector Mediavilla
The Congolese Sape. Brazzaville, Congo
Hector Medivilla is Spanish photographer based in Barcelona.. His work focuses on social issues in Africa and Latin America. His pictures have been published in Colors, New York Times, Business Week, Time, L’Internazionale, L’Espresso, Io Dona, Financial Times Germany, Magazine La Vanguardia and others. His work has received awards from Pictures of the Year International and Fotopres La Caixa. He is a founding member of the new Spanish collective Pandora.
Hector described the project saying “Africa has many many faces but we usually see the same kind of reality: war, hunger and so on. Realities like those exist and should be documented but it’s rich to see this part of the world through other perspectives. They might help us to rethink our beliefs about it”. Mediavilla has also documented the Sapeurs life in Paris. The complete essay can be seen at ZoneZero.
About The Photograph:
Sape is French slang for “dressing with class”. The French often use the expression “il est bien sape” to talk about a sharp dressed man. The term “sapeur” is a new African word that refers to someone that is dressed with great elegance.
The arrival of the French to the Congo, at the beginning of the 20th Century, brought along the myth of Parisian elegance among the Congolese youth working for the colonialists. Many considered the white man to be superior because of their technology, sophistication and elegance. In 1922, G.A. Matsoua was the first–ever Congolese to return from Paris fully clad as an authentic French gentleman, which caused great uproar and much admiration amongst his fellow countrymen. He was the first Grand Sapeur.
Respected and admired in their communities, today’s sapeurs see themselves as artists. Their refined manners and impeccable style in their attire bring a little glamour to their humble surroundings. Each one has his own repertoire of gestures that distinguishes him from the others. They are also after their own great dream: to travel to Paris and to return to Bacongo as lords of elegance.
What is Sape and who are the Sapeurs?
Sape is French slang for “dressing with class”. The French often use the expression “il est bien sape” to talk about a sharp dressed man. The term “sapeur” is a new African word that refers to someone that is dressed with great elegance. However, the Congolese sapeurs are not only concerned about elegance, but also with good manners, politeness and morality. Generally, they only dress up on weekends and special occasions. Designer brands of suits and accessories are a big deal to Sapeurs. Complete attire can cost up to 1500 euros, although ironically, many of them don have a job. To get the whole outfit that can get them the sought-after prestige can take several years. Most of them start up with suits borrowed from established sapeurs that initiate them in the secrets of the Sape.The Congolese Sape, except for very rare exceptions, is a man thing, which sometimes is inherited whereas most of the times is acquired by choice.