In the troubled southern suburbs of Brazzaville, the Congo’s capital city, a resilient group of men have traded arms for Armani. The sapeurs, as captured in Daniele Tamagni & Africolor at Danziger Proejcts through September 10th, are Congolese men who abide by a strict moral code that’s signaled publicly by their equally rigorous dress rules. Tamagni, an Italian photographer working in several African regions, has produced photographs that reveal men in impeccably tailored, brilliantly colored three-piece suits, brandishing canes and cigars in the middle of slum neighborhoods. These men save up for months—often years—for an outfit.
Though the Sape movement first gained popularity as a way of resisting the 1970s national ban on western clothing, Tamagni no longer sees it as politically motivated. Today he sees it as both a form of “social affirmation,” and as an art in its own right. Not only is “dressing up a way to escape and forget poverty…but also their aesthetic is amazing, because they re-mix and re-interpret the Western brand outfits.” If fashion has truly become a life philosophy for the sapeurs, it’s clear that it’s a living, breathing dogma. “It’s a mix of dandyism with old colonial accessories and hip-hop style,” Tamagni explains. “It’s impossible to define their aesthetic.”