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Tariq Zaidi : Sapeurs – Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo


British photographer Tariq Zaidi presents a fashion subculture of Kinshasa & Brazzaville: La Sape, Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society of Ambiance-Makers & 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.

From the text by Tariq Zaidi:

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.

Though the subculture is traditionally passed down through the male line, many Congolese women have recently begun donning designer suits and becoming sapeuses. By challenging Congolese patriarchal society in this way, they are returning to La Sape’s origins by reversing the power dynamic.

La Sape is a movement that is constantly evolving, as disenfranchised youths use fashion as a way of navigating their nations’ journeys from developing countries into a more hopeful cosmopolitan future.

Tariq Zaidi is a freelance photographer based out of London, UK. In 2014, he gave up an executive management position to pursue his passion of capturing the dignity, strength and soul of people, within their environment. He is a self-taught photographer with an MSc from University College London. His photography focuses on documenting social issues, inequality, traditions and endangered communities around the world.

Zaidi has worked in 19 countries across four continents, mainly in the developing world. His work has been shown in over 75 international exhibitions and featured in more than 700 publications, including The Guardian, BBC, CNN, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, GEO, El Pais, Foreign Policy, The LA Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Marie Claire, Esquire and Vogue among other international titles. Zaidi’s work has been recognised through a number of prestigious awards, including Pictures of the Year International (POYi), the National Press Photographers Association’s (NPPA) Best of Photojournalism awards, UNICEF Photo of the Year, the Marty Forscher Fellowship Fund for Humanistic Photography (Parsons School of Design), the International Photography Awards and the PDN Photo Annual. He is represented by Zuma Press (USA), Caters News Agency (UK) and Getty Images (UK).

You can follow more of Tariq Zaidi’s work on Instagram (@tariqzaidiphoto), Facebook (@tariqzaidiphotography) and on his website


Tariq Zaidi : Sapeurs – Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo

Photographs and text by Tariq Zaidi

Designed by SMITH

Published by Kehrer Verlag

Half-cloth hardcover 19 x 27 cm

176 pages

121 color ills. English

ISBN 978-3-86828-973-2

Euro 35,00 / GBP 32.00 / US$ 45.00

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