Culture

The Superheroes of Ouagadougou

Alexander Eudier looks at the West's benevolence towards Africa by photographing people dressed up as Marvel characters.

by Alexandre Eudier
30 June 2015, 10:00am

All photos by author

All photos courtesy of the author

This article originally appeared on VICE France

This series of photographs, shot in Burkina Faso, is the continuation of an art project that I began in Indonesia. The idea behind the whole thing was to use local traditional crafts to reinterpret pop culture. In Bali and Java, I had a rather unique opportunity to work with some sculptors that could integrate graffiti into traditional houses, as well as a few hyperrealist painters that I hired to reimagine my photographs.

What interested me was the status issues this sort of work raised – could one still be the "author" of a piece when part of its production has been outsourced? I decided not to put my name on any of it and instead credited the works with the caption: "Untitled, Anonymous."

When I arrived in Burkina Faso in 2012, I was looking to explore those very questions by working on the same collisions. I wanted to merge African clichés with familiar symbols of consumerism and new technologies, thereby creating situations that question the images we see in the media.

My plan was not to anchor myself in my surroundings but to play around with references that transcended borders. This series about superheroes came from a simple sketch – a Spiderman boubou I had drawn on my notebook. Together with my colleague, Bruno Revert, we built upon that idea and decided to expand it to include other key figures of Western culture. We came up with three different outfits.

For models, I hired Kaboré (Spider-Man), who is a part of Face-O-Sceno – a small organisation that creates theatre sets and with whom I've collaborated on several projects. Then there was Gedor (Iron Man), who had just finished his art studies and was looking for an apprenticeship. He accompanied me on a lot of my photo shoots. Mathias (Batman) was a driver whom I hired to shuttle my team to our morning shoots. He was happy enough to simply drive us and stare on laughing from the sidelines, but when I asked if he was interested in suiting up, he immediately asked if he could have the Batman costume.

To achieve that particular shine I was after, the costumes were made completely out of bazin. This particular fabric is quite popular and generally used for regalia, so it commands respect. To reach its full glistening potential, you need to coat it in vegetable sap.

I chose to recreate superheroes for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, because of aesthetics – the costume's bright colours echoed that of the traditional local outfits. There was also something quite comic about swapping out the ultra skin-tight costumes of hyper-masculine superheroes with these baggy tunics.

I also made a Ronald McDonald costume. That was actually one of Bruno Revert's realisations, intended for another project of mine. We were quite surprised to find out that a lot of Burkinabé people didn't even know who he was. I wonder how much longer that will last.

TDTF is a publishing house created by Alexandre Eudier and Matthew Noiret. Their first books Vermillion Coast and Super are out now.