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Tariq Zaidi : The Congo Catwalk by Sean Sheehan

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The photographs in Tariq Zaidi’s Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo are not easy to forget. Their context is highly specific – Brazzaville and Kinshasa – capitals of two countries that are probably more often confused with one another than any other pair of nation states in the world. As if to underline a blurring of the nations’ distinctive identities, the sapeurs of both republics proclaim in their dress style that culture can unite what international borders divide. The geopolitical difference divorcing the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from the Republic of the Congo resides in their colonial genealogies. The DRC’s capital (formerly Leopoldville) was named after the Belgian king who appropriated the land; a French explorer, Pierre de Brazza, gave his name to the capital of neighbouring territory that he pioneered for France’s colonial acquisition. The Congo river divides the capitals but it has always been culturally bridged by the Bakongo people of the region. Their resistance to colonial rule took sartorial form in the 1920s when, according to Zaidi, Congolese house servants ‘spurned their masters’ second-hand...

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