The Power of Images

Photo-reportage, fashion photography and portraiture combine and collide to stage provocative scenes in the artist’s own image — a Beninese- Belgian whose heritage has nurtured an interest “in the evolution of black identity through history”. His thematic concerns are similarly compound — at times synergistic, at times disparate — drawing on West African traditions, global modernities and Afro-Atlantic histories of colonisation and slavery.

Monteiro’s polished aesthetic is able to bear the paradoxes inherent in his subject matter: beauty and horror, opulence and atrocity, repressed memory and pressing current affairs. This is vividly illustrated in his series The Prophecy, where universal, mythic figures are reimagined in the imagery of West African masqueraders, heralding a cry against the degradation of their respective environments. In these photographs, Eurocentric traditions of portraiture and landscape are radically revised, and stereotypes of Africa both evoked and undercut, as globally relevant issues are addressed from an Afrocentric perspective.

Untitled #10 — The Australian Great Barrier Reef is of great importance in the Aboriginal culture. Here, the spirit of the Great Barrier Reef is leaving, carrying with it all the life and colours of the reef, leaving behind only a “skeleton” of the Reef.

What motivates your environmental art?

When I came to live in Senegal, I realised that one of the main issues when it comes to environmental behaviour is the lack of education. I came up with the idea of creating an illustrated tale for kids based on African strong beliefs. The story is the following: Mother Earth, sick and tired of human behaviour toward the planet, decides to send her spirits down to earth, have them appearing to the humans and delivering a message of awareness and empowerment.

What is your vision for an African future?

The future of Africa will be connected to the future of the rest of the world. In the next 50 years, humanity is probably going to confront environmental issues like never before. This ultimate challenge will force us to interrogate our priorities and what we want for future generations. It shall give the majority the will to create an alternative to ethnocentrism and overconsumption.

Untitled #3 — In the ’60s, Hann Bay, in Senegal, was described as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Today, it is among the most polluted. The photo was taken at the edge of the slaughterhouse evacuation channel of Dakar. It is a continuous stream of blood and guts that gives a blood-red color to the waves crashing on the shore, creating an ‘end of the world’ kind of atmosphere. Here, the Bay’s spirit suffocates under excessive pollution.

How can aesthetics drive causes?

The power of images speak to everyone. You can be illiterate and understand art because it speaks to the heart. Art definitely has a role to play in the future of our world. As an artist, I take it as my responsibility.

This interview was published in The Beam #6 — Subscribe now for more