Life & Culture

Viviane Sassen on How Africa Inspires Her Work

The photographer discusses the continent’s influence on her practice and her new exhibition, SHE

Viviane Sassen is a remarkable photographer. For over 20 years, she has been distrupting the boundaries of fashion and art with her compelling photography. Tomorrow, a new exhibition of her work opens at the Carla Sozzani Gallery in Milan, just in time for Milan Fashion Week.

Titled SHE, the exhibition brings together some older but mostly newer work exploring “womanhood, female power, creative freedom and the female body” – the female body in relation to fertility and motherhood as opposed to sexuality, the photographer stresses. One particular body of work, titled Of Mud and Lotus forms the core of this exhibition and, she says, “refers to the archetypal idea of the woman”.

“‘Mud’ stands for the female struggle in an earthly way,” she goes on, “a rather organic growing process, blood, sweat and tears, that isn’t always perfect – quite the opposite; it’s raw and doesn’t always smell good. ‘Lotus’ stands for the spiritual, beauty, calmness and wisdom. It’s about inner strength, and about the inner transformations you go through in life, for instance when you become a mother.”

Like much of Sassen’s work, these images are rich in colour – something that stems from her childhood in Kenya. “I think that the strong African sunlight has had a big impact on my work, and also the vibrant colours of nature, the African landscapes,” she explains. “But also the bright colours of the fabrics that women wear in most parts of Africa; the ‘Dutch Wax’, the Kanga’s and Kitenge’s, that are so graphic, fun and vibrant.” However her use of colour also relates to Dutch heritage – the Netherlands is, after all, the country that gave us Mondrian, Rietveld and De Stijl movement.

Preview the exhibition in the gallery above and head here for more information about the show.

SHE is at the Carla Sozzani Gallery in Milan from September 20–November 12.