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Photography by Kristin-Lee Moolman

Ib Kamara’s portraits of Black possibility

I met Ib Kamara on a hot morning. I was still in my post Saturday jol-haze when I introduced myself to the stylist who I had previously only known from his portraits.  Like apparitions from the digital spheres leaping straight out of his Instagram, I would see him and his team, returning from their morning shoot to pick me up to do the interview.

Squeezed between 3 slender stoic young men, one in a ladies hat which was fitting considering all the Sunday services happening around us. Sitting between them at the back of the car was like being perched within his Instagram posts. I got to rub shoulders with the artist and his team. I got to meet the digital deities in the flesh.

By looking at his work one can already see a creative dialogue happening between him and South African art collective FAKA  whose images blur the simple divide between the masculine and feminine. He tells me that he’s good friends with and has collaborated with them. They suggested that he come to Johannesburg. From his Instagram page alone one already sees a shared experience, a collective whose quest is to shape how we reconstruct ourselves and how we want to be seen as people from the African continent.

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Ib Kamara can best be described as an artist whose medium is the body. His work as a stylist has garnered him well deserved praise because of his ability to re-politicize a career that can too easily be dismissed as frivolous and obsessed with the outward appearance. Through clothing he is able to examine what it means to be black, a man, deconstructing our notions that there are singular notions of such.

Yet before Ib began his career in the creative arts he had studied the sciences with the intention of becoming a doctor. “I was very much into the experiments and had I continued I would have probably become a researcher.”. His parents had encouraged him to enter into the sciences but he wasn’t happy with this choice. “I wanted to be a creative”.

He would then leave university and study art. Yet his love of experimentation would continue into his passion for art. Coming from sciences which is centred on the body, he would continue this focus through styling.

52C4CCD9-9C20-41A8-AB7F-66C58039BEA8“I look at people a lot. I look at how people look. How they hold themselves. It could be two guys on the road, leaning. That’s how I draw inspiration. I’m constantly sketching and do my research by reading a lot, but my main source is from ‘the everyday’. It is here that everything rushes to you all at once.”

For him South Africans go the extra mile when they dress, just like the rest of Africa and her diaspora. He talks about his recent travels to Freetown, Sierra Leone where he was born. Ib would stop people and tell them they are amazing. “For them it’s just every day but for me it’s fucking amazing”.

“Style is attitude, character, it’s who you want to be.” He works by first looking at his model’s style, and then looks at his model’s the clothes. For him style goes beyond the clothes. “It is a man smoking his cigar. It means living with your own world.”

Ib interned with the legendary stylist and model Barry Kamen, who became a major influence on his work and his mentor.

“I would watch Barry when he picked up his cup with his rings.  He embodies a stylish person.  He had so much detail in everything he did, even in the lining of his pants. He was a Father figure to me. He was the greatest living stylist of the time. He was such a humble person in the world yet he brought such grace and art to style.”

It was through Barry that Ib learned to style the human body.  His personal style is laid back and minimal unlike his mentor. For him however it’s the essence not the amount you put on.

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“Styling is performance as a moving image. It’s a moving art piece that’s constantly adapting.”

His Instagram page reflects this spirit. “There is an energy I want to portray here where anything goes. I want to push ideas that I was afraid to do as a child. Most kids grow up and loose their fantasies. I continue the fantasy through my Instagram feed. Here I am talking with myself about my ideas and fantasies.  This is what I want to portray, a ‘boy on a guy on a bike with his butt out’.

His Instagram page shows the image of the care free black man who embraces the feminine. This heroine is not afraid to embrace a masculinity on his own terms. At times unafraid to be sexy for the camera, with sensual shots in stockings, silk gloves and unafraid to let his pants fall to reveal his love of lace panties.

This is a man who is also not afraid to be vulnerable. His nakedness is not a symptom of his lack of clothes but in how the viewer is being allowed access to a private self.  This self is one in which he decides how he shall be seen by others.  He rejects the standards of how black men are supposed to be seen as the direct opposite to the female form. For him such boundaries do not exist within his own imagination.

“These are the characters in my head that I wasn’t allowed to be. Always being told to be a man, I wanted to push and change ideas of how a black man should be, which for me is problematic. I’m against a single narrative on how black people should behave and look. These were never were my things.”

With his portraits he gives a platform to bodies whose existence are ignored in the every day. His Instagram is a platform of what is possible. Where form can follow fantasy.

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