Sélim Harbi – Behind the masks in West Africa

Documentary photographer and filmmaker Sélim Harbi, is passionate about the African continent, its history and cultures. He is the co-founder of Afreekyama; a pan-african photojournalism and multimedia storytelling collective. In 2014 he spent nine months working on his photo series: ‘Woongo, Behind the Masks.’ Woongo is the term used for “masks” in the Mooré language, spoken in Burkina Faso. After amassing his collection of West African masks, he sought to understand their significance and meaning. He then photographed the people he met, wearing his masks, and unleashed a striking body of work focusing on contemporary African society.

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Joakou, 24, moved to Brurkina Faso after fleeing the Ivorian conflict. He is wearing a mask of peace from the Senufo people. (Source CNN)

On his website, Harbi further describes his project on the West African mask portraits:

Ambiguous and mystical object,  instrument of metamorphosis and duplicity, embodying the beauty and terror, symbolising the gods, manifesting the invisible and the supernatural: THE MASK. More than just a disguise under which man tries to hide, but a visible manifestation of spirits. In Woongo people are playing the subtle and delicate play to tell their stories … behind a mask. De-mystifiying and de-coding a cultural object of a longtime exotised Africa, the mask become just a narrative acces to a story. Woongo is exploring a fine line between documentary and staged photography, reality emerges in the time of a cliché, to point out that the two worlds on both sides of the mask finally become one. Opening a broad spectrum of reflection on contemporary African reality, reflecting the sense of time, tradition and identity.

CNN – Behind the masks in West Africa