Artist Statement

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 and 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. 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.”

About Artist

Tariq Zaidi is a freelance photographer. In January 2014, he gave up an executive management position to pursue his passion of capturing the dignity, strength and soul of people, within their environment. His photography focuses on documenting social issues, inequality, traditions and endangered communities around the world.

He has worked in 21 countries across four continents, mainly in the developing world. His work has been shown in over 80 exhibitions and featured internationally, including The Guardian, BBC, CNN, National Geographic, Washington Post, Newsweek, Spiegel and Times of London among other respected international titles.

Tariq’s work has been recognised through a number of prestigious awards, including Pictures of the Year International, the National Press Photographers Association, UNICEF Photo of the Year, the Marty Forscher Fellowship Fund for Humanistic Photography, the International Photography Awards and the PDN Photo Annual. His first book Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo was published in September 2020.

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