The 'Apparent Vanity' of Kinshasa’s Sapeurs

by Yves Sambu, Words by Julie Le Baron
14 May 2015, 6:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE France

About five years ago, Kinshasan photographer Yves Sambu found himself in the cemetery of the Gombe district, observing a tribute ceremony to the founder of the La Sape movement, Stervos Niarcos Ngashie. La Sape first emerged in 1960s in Brazzaville, in the Republic of the Congo, as a sartorial style that combines elements of colonial dandyism with garish details in an attempt to reference and resist the former. The movement has since spread to other cities such as Kinshasa and Paris.

"I have been interested in La Sape for years, but I've never really been a sapeur myself," explained Yves Sambu. "I was working on a photo series about cemeteries, when one February I stumbled on the memorial service for Stervos Niarcos. I was seduced by the stark contrast between the sapeurs' clothing and the cemetery's architecture and felt I had to look into it." The result was a series of sapeurs' portraits, which Sambu titled Vanité Apparente [translation from French: "Apparent Vanity"].

"Through my photographs, I would also like to show that these are not just stylish people – their clothes are a tool that allows them to express their mindset and their political commitments," said Sambu.

Vanité Apparente is currently exhibited at Paris' Palais de Tokyo.