• PROOF:
  • December 31, 2013

Pictures We Love: Art in the Face of Adversity

Author
Alexa Keefe

National Geographic’s Proof blog invited the photography and design teams of National Geographic magazine to look back through the hundreds of photographs from the over 75 stories published in 2013 and select one photo that spoke to their heart, intrigued them, inspired awe, made them smile—in short, to choose their favorite photo from this past year. Over the next several days we’ll bring you a round-up of the breathtaking, the touching, the extraordinary, the imperfect, and the beautiful.

All the city’s a catwalk for Kinshasa’s young sapeurs—fashionistas who here parade the Matonge neighborhood wearing haute couture. Fierce in self-expression, some spend most of their earnings on designer apparel.
Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo, September 2013 Photograph by Pascal Maitre


Jenna Turner, Photo Coordinator

Luxury and adversity mingle in this dichotomous image made by Pascal Maitre. The opulent ensembles these men style look out of place in the littered streets of Kinshasa. For Les Sapeurs, members of the Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elégantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People), their clothes are as much about extravagance as they are about creativity. But beyond being a form of self-expression, it is a lifestyle about poise and propriety. Good manners, attention to detail, visual perfection, and social etiquette are of utmost importance to these gentlemen. Although often spending exorbitant amounts of money on clothes in a country where nearly half the population lives beneath the national poverty line, like all of us, they are striving to carve out their identities in the world, moving beyond class and circumstance.

Performance artist Julie Djikey protests against pollution as a “human car,” with oil filters on her breasts and motor oil and ashes from burned tires smeared all over her body.
Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo, September 2013
Photograph by Pascal Maitre
Susan Welchman, Senior Editor

Pascal Maitre shot this image of Julie Djikley, a street artist in Kinshasa. Julie covered her body with engine oil and wore cans on her breasts as a statement about pollution in our environment created by cars and traffic. On several occasions she carried a gas tank on her back and a steering wheel in her hands, pushing a tiny car made of old cans. In her seminaked state she drew jeers and disapproval from crowds on Kinshasa streets but she continued to walk in silence throughout the city.

Recently her doctor suggested she stop this practice because the oil was entering her body through her skin, our largest organ.

The image is effective without a caption, the composition both momentary and studied. I don’t get tired of looking at this photo because there are so many subtle colors and textures worth gazing at. Unable to see her eyes or what she is thinking, her smile communicates peace and purpose. Her body is that of a strong young woman and makes you wonder why she risks her well-being.

Having traveled to Kinshasa twice I keep this image as a reminder of the strength of poor and concerned artists who continue to communicate what is on their minds amid danger and strife in that dense urban African life.

View these photographs and more in our interactive Year in Review.

There are 18 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Mlungisi Mabaso
    January 16, 2014

    These guys are F&**$#$^%ng looking good on their atire, I have asked one of taylor to make me such a scotish suit, i just love it stacks, I aso like the lose pants (guy in Black and white second from the left, that is my man!!!!!

  2. NEWTON FORREST
    January 13, 2014

    ONE OF THE MOST MAGNIFICENT PICTURES TO DESCRIBE THE HURTING WORLD,FANTASTIC PHOTO

  3. Yancy Walker
    January 10, 2014

    EVEN IN A SEEMING HELL ON EARTH, THE SISTA’S BRING LEVITY THAT’S GOD’S STUFF. FOR ME, ANOTHER TESTIMONY OF HOW “AKEYBU”, NOT africa HAS BEEN TRASHED. YET, AKEYBULONIAN, SISTA’S IN AND OUT SIDE THE DIASPERA, STIll GRIN in thier NEVER-ENDING TORMEMENT of themselves and GOD’S ORIGINAL EDEN.

  4. assably kouame boris
    January 10, 2014

    Very beautiful works and also the spirit of creativity the decoration very beautiful initiative I you congratulated.

  5. Dave
    January 9, 2014

    Their oil filters !!! What a place to roam.

  6. Reed Wilson
    January 7, 2014

    Why don’t they spend some of their money on a broom and sweep up some of the garbage. Maybe then they wouldn’t have so many diseases that we, (USA) need to pay for.

  7. Miriam Israel
    January 6, 2014

    It is indeed a fascinating work of art however I wonder at what health risk to the artist.

  8. Billl Olney
    January 6, 2014

    Would you like to see some of mine?

  9. Isidro Besteiro
    January 6, 2014

    That is a master picture, it said a lot of things and touch the soul…

  10. Miles Pechacek
    January 6, 2014

    Interesting

  11. carol Rode-Eggert
    January 5, 2014

    I feel privileged to have witnessed such an act of courage

  12. Theodore Salafia
    January 5, 2014

    One notes the effect artists can have on the environment. However, true one would expect oil to cause harm to the skin.

  13. Michael Gaffney
    January 4, 2014

    To start the process with Epson, Pascal Maitre should be contacted first. If anyone knows Pascal, please inform him of this concept.

  14. Michael Gaffney
    January 4, 2014

    This brilliant image by Pascal Maitre of Julie Djikley which visually creates a stunning statement about our living eco system needs to be shared worldwide. Here’s my concept; Epson picks up the image for their advertising, trade show displays and marketing efforts. Pascal works the contract so there is 50/50 split which would allow both Pascal and Susan to continue
    their purposeful, good work. If anyone is connected to Epson, please contact them…this image is perfect for them and for world consciousness.

  15. Brad Grove
    January 1, 2014

    A small but not insignificant detail which has escaped the editor and possibly even the photographer is that those “cans” covering the artist’s breasts are not cans. They are hollowed out oil filters (an engine consumable). This for me simply re-enforces the statement the artists is trying to make.

  16. dhanxiir
    January 1, 2014

    amazing and beautiful pictures are very essential and i personaly like to watch and read gradually to prepare comments about. that is my hobby.

  17. Hajiagha
    December 31, 2013

    For me as professional artist invited by USA visa to lens in USA and move in Canada is just bad dreams after landing in Canada I became homeless and I lost all my dreams because Canada lies and Canada do not care at all who you are They using all od us as low pay labors .1995-2014 Hajiagha biography

  18. Ameer Hamza
    December 31, 2013

    I always wanted to have comments from Susan. Its great to hear her again via this forum. I hope this series is continued further and also taken up in the magazine by that previous name, Final Edit.

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