Paperback / 116 pages / 240 x 330 mm
The Maasai people of Kenya are well-known to outsiders, or, at least, their stereotypical image is well-known. You will have seen them before in photographs and films, jumping in the air as part of a traditional dance and surrounded by wildlife, other tribal people and exoticism. This stereotypical image of East Africa, however incomplete, is aesthetically fascinating and therefore replicates; it validates the way they continue to be portrayed in the media, where everyone tries to re-photograph tourist literature. In My Maasai, a book initiated by Dutch photographer Jan Hoek, in collaboration with Sarah Waiswa, Mohammed Altoum and Joel Lukhovi, a new view is offered through twenty completely different interpretations of modern day Maasai, shot (mostly) by East African photographers themselves.
The photographers, from different backgrounds and at different levels of accomplishment, are each introduced with a portrait and small text explaining their inspiration, motivation and dedication towards the project. High school student Malcolm Nduati, for example, considered himself a bully towards the Maa people until he saw a talented Maasai rapper perform at a local church. This discovery shook his prejudice and he soon collaborated with these rappers that even had more ‘swag’ than him. His images are heavily photoshopped with added elements of fire, old-school graffiti fonts and lens flare; a naïve take on the world around him. Another photographer, Sarah Waiswa, a Uganda-born Kenyan who won the 2016 Discovery Award at Rencontres d’Arles, was inspired by the legend of a long forgotten female deity who delivered livestock from the heavens. She gives this legend a new breath of life in her series of portraits of a woman in a fierce red dress and sky-blue braids in the same village she first heard the story. Through her images, the introduction explains, she asks, “How could a society so deeply patriarchal have a history that is so opposite to the present?” Other photographers emphasize the multifaceted modern-day jobs the Maasai fulfil like pilots, bulky sportsmen and rock stars.