Fancy Mama – Krissima

My mom always had the French elegance and Congolese chic. At home, the mama is extremely respected, to be a mother is to be the beneficiary of authority, strength, wisdom…

In France the visual cliché of the African mama is one-sided. It is also necessarily false since it denies the existence of different cultures on the African continent. I refuse to let this expression fall on the negative side, because our African mothers in their diversity are full of wisdom, strength and so beautiful.

So I decided to create the Fancy mama project.

Fancy mama is an artistic project that carries my values and my cultural legacies. Today it’s much more than a project, it is the way I create.

Ever since I’ve been a mom, I’ve liked to call myself Photographer mom. In Congo we often tend to call a woman “mom” when she becomes a mother. But the word Mom is also used as a sign of respect and affection. When I call myself that way, I give myself the status of pro photographer. Fancy  is in honor of Congo Brazzaville.

The idea of Fancy mama started to bloom in my head during my last trip to Congo Brazzaville. One day during quarantine in my apartment I decided to recreate at home the studios of the years of independence. Thinking back to the crazy stories of my grandmother and the photographs of famous Congolese artists that I grew up with. I took the first photo of this project. Little did I know I was pregnant in it.

Fancy mama is the inspiration of the Congolese mothers, of their elegance in any situation, of their beauty but also of their creativity. But Fancy mama is also and mostly a battle, which is to show the « African mama » in a new way. I am the 3.0 version of a Congolese mother, obviously the 1.0 version is my grand-mother and she is unbeatable but by passing on my culture she has kept a part of her heritage in me.

Château Rouge is an important place for this project. This is where you can meet all kinds of mamas. Château Rouge is my favorite district in Paris, it’s where I used to buy gombo, manioc and plantain bananas. Château rouge is the place I go to to buy loincloths and have my clothes made. This area of Paris is an integral part of me, so I had to immortalize myself in front of the stores of my childhood. Château Rouge is also the district of conviviality, for example when I decided to organize the International African Women’s Day. I immediately went to Château Rouge to drop off posters and get help with my project. A day of putting up posters, talking about politics, activism, pan-Africanism, playing with my son. This day reminded me why Fancy mama was there.

Passing on to my son the different Congolese cultures is essential for me. Through my education I also try to make him aware of pan-Africanism so that he can understand that the African continent is very large and diverse but also has common issues.

All of my photographs are objects of research. I spend days in archives, articles, scientific journals to address a theme in images. This is my scientific mediation part (because I am a trained scientific mediator), I use science to create and my art as a medium.

The mothers around me have always been inveterate workers. For us, being a mother is not incompatible with being pro-active, on the contrary. So even if the French society is not adapted for a mother who would want to work with her child, I do everything with my baby. I try to build my artistic career with him and above all I learn and discover with him.

I let you enter my Franco-Congolese 3.0 universe through these multiple photographs.

The loincloth (wax style) is an integral part of my visual identity although it is unfortunately a colonial relic. I’ve been collecting loincloths from everyone ever since I was little. I tie loincloths for outfits or on my head, I use loincloths for my picnics, I recover scraps of fabric to make objects, I carry my son in it… The loincloth is a whole part of my life. It is the loincloth that is part of my life and not the Dutch wax, there are many cloth factories Made In Africa. Besides, I mostly use 2nd hand fabrics for my designs. African cultures have learned how to appropriate the loincloth (wax style) and blend it with our older traditions on the continent. It is important for me to think about my Africanness on a daily basis, without obviously reducing it to the loincloth, but giving up on this one wouldn’t really account for my visual Africanness.

I inherited the art of using fabrics to do whatever you want from my grand-grand-mother according to my grand-mother. What fascinates me is the elegance that a simple piece of fabric can have. And that’s part of the reason why the mamas’ visual identity is so interesting to me.

To carry our baby on our back is one of the symbols by excellence of the African mamas. It is a huge cultural heritage. I have always dreamed of carrying my baby on my back. Carrying my son on my back means discovering that there are almost as many ways to tie a loincloth as there are countries in Africa.

But carrying my son on my back today is mostly to save my culture. Babywearing in France has been demonized for a very long time to the point of being practiced in secret or even abandoned… Today, the benefits of babywearing have been proven, it is even fashionable. Unfortunately a multitude of brands and instructors have taken over the phenomenon and convey racist biases through their ignorance or even their superiority complex. Because babywearing is not fashion, I immortalize myself wearing my son.

Breastfeeding has been one of the biggest points of my practice when my son was born. Exclusive breastfeeding is all the time and as I was working with baby I often immortalized myself breastfeeding. And then thanks to my research and my experience as a breastfeeding mother I have unfortunately discovered that breastfeeding is still too often instrumentalized to convey racist clichés and comfort certain people in their superiority complex. Even worse, misinformation about breastfeeding is deliberately killing millions of children in the world, including a large number on the African continent. Putting breastfeeding back to its place as a black woman is essential for me. So breastfeeding became one of the main topics of my practice. Today, after more than a year and a half of breastfeeding, the feeding is less regular and therefore the images of breastfeeding are rarer. But it won’t be long before my lens immortalize the breastfeeding of our mamas.

Fancy mama is much more than an artistic project. Today, I get to plan the International Day of the African Woman. It is a dream come true to reunite different African communities in the same theme. I am now organizing conferences with my thoughts that came from photographs. Our moms are true inspirations and viable sources. Fancy mama puts them back on their podium. In a society where stereotypes sometimes take over human beings, Fancy mama mocks them and appropriates them.

Text and  photos by Krissima Poba. 

You can find Krissima on Instagram.