Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo

These images were made in the streets of the 2 capitals cities Congo Kinshasa & Congo Brazzaville. The series is about people who are part of a fashion culture in Congo called: La Sape, Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society of Ambiance-Makers & Elegant People). Its followers are known as »Sapeurs« (»Sapeuses« for women).

Most have ordinary day jobs as taxi-drivers, tailors and gardeners, but as soon as they clock out they transform themselves into debonair dandies. Sashaying through the streets they are treated like rock stars – turning heads, bringing ‘joie de vivre’ to their communities and defying their circumstances.

Brazzaville and Kinshasa are on opposite banks of the Congo River, almost directly across from one another, yet they have different styles. In Brazzaville, La Sape is mainly ‘French style’ (think exquisite suits), but in Kinshasa anything goes, from Japanese Yamamoto coats to Scottish kilts.

True Sapologie is about more than expensive labels: the true art lies in a sapeur’s ability to put together an elegant look unique to their personality. Though the culture is traditionally passed down through the male line, many Congolese women have recently begun donning designer suits and becoming sapeuses.

As Papa Wemba (1949–2016, Congolese singer and fashion icon who popularised Sape) once said: “White people invented the clothes, but we (Africans) make an art of it.”

This series, which Zaidi started making in 2017 is part of a larger body of work published as a book in September 2020, “Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo”. The book was selected by Vogue as one of the "Best Fashion Books of the Year 2020". Designed by Stuart Smith, published by Kehrer Verlag Germany and co-edition with Seigensha Art Publishing, Japan. The book was also recognised by Pictures of the Year International POY78 (one of the most prestigious photojournalism competitions) as a Finalist for "Photography Book of the Year 2020". The photobook is already on its second printing.

Yamea with GirlPOS TZ 237 01
BoudimbouPOS TZ 237 02
Ntsimba, Okili and JudithPOS TZ 237 03
EllaPOS TZ 237 04
Blandine POS TZ 237 05
FirminPOS TZ 237 06
PerrouPOS TZ 237 07
Elie with UmbrellaPOS TZ 237 08
SeverinPOS TZ 237 09
KawunguPOS TZ 237 10
KassPOS TZ 237 11
BasilePOS TZ 237 12
PerreiraPOS TZ 237 13
EliePOS TZ 237 14
CelestinPOS TZ 237 15
ArmellePOS TZ 237 16
MaximePOS TZ 237 17
Nkodia POS TZ 237 18
NatanPOS TZ 237 19
ClementinePOS TZ 237 20
Yamea POS TZ 237 21
ArlePOS TZ 237 22
Etienne POS TZ 237 23
MichelePOS TZ 237 24
PatricePOS TZ 237 25

Xposure hosts solo exhibition spaces for acclaimed photographers along with group exhibitions for professional institutions. All exhibiting photographers will be present during the festival, enabling you the opportunity to meet and talk to them about their work.