Fashion Photographer Sol Bela Celebrates Her Return to Africa After Many Years Away
The rising creative tells us all about her new series and why she celebrates marginalized people.
Photographer Sol Bela spent half her life living in Africa before moving to Barcelona when she was 12 years old. During her early days in Europe, she found there were no Black people in the media and that most of the women who looked like her were stereotyped while her culture was often appropriated. Now, the 22-year-old uses her lens to reclaim her culture documenting the experiences of minorities including Asian people, Muslims and Latinos.
In her latest series, “Bioko Blues,” Bela showcases her experience returning to her homeland, Bioko, Guinea Equatorial, after 12 years away. She partnered with Nigerian designer Wekafore, who is also based in Spain, to explore spirituality through what he calls “Primitive-futurism”. Their collaboration speaks to the experience of being African but growing up as an immigrant abroad.
We sat down with Bela to learn more about her experience returning home, her new photo, and why she collaborated Wekafore on this new series.
What kind of narratives do explore in your work as a photographer? How has fashion photography allowed you to express certain themes?
Growing up, the only images I saw of Blackness in the media was a whitewashed version. Due to this, I want to use my camera to celebrate the stories of minorities and the diversity of black people as Blackness comes in so many colors. Photography has allowed me to express myself and touch on certain themes that are not taught or shown in Europe while also mixing both of my cultures as I am both African and European.
What inspired you to create the “Bioko Blues” series? What was it like returning to Bioko after so many years away?
I wanted to do something when I was visiting home but I wanted it to have value and make it represent my return. I told the designer my idea and it was that easy.
Why did you choose to collaborate with Wekafore?
Wekafore is someone who is really inspiring me right now. I like how carefree he is, how he thinks about the future of the Diaspora’s kids and the values he expresses through his brand. Weka is the person I could have used as an African reference in my adolescence.
What was it about his “primitive futurism” concept that interested you most?
Weka wants to show more than the pretty/brown American softness, he’s showing a black African primitive one, which is something that people don’t usually want talk about. I also think he’s expressing that this kind of blackness must be more included in the future.
How did the emotions surrounding your return come through in the images you shot?
It’s the second time I’ve been back home. The first time I did it without any expectation and I learned a lot. I have grown up in a society in which I have been forced to put aside my culture in order to fit into certain spaces. There was a moment when I totally lost my way and didn’t want to know anything about my roots, I was ashamed because it was what made me different, and as usual, when you grow up, you want to fit in and be like your friends. Getting to go back to Bioko for the first time was the most shocking yet the most beautiful experience I’ve had in my life. I reconnected with my land and returned to Europe full of energy and thanks to that I am where I am now.
Going home for the second time was something I was looking forward to for a long time ago, I was ready because I knew what was waiting for me. I met my family, my old friends and I was happy. I wanted to show these emotions in the images with the raw aesthetics of the city.
I want to create references for these cultures, also for future generations so they don’t have the same experience and feel more included while living in the diaspora.
As someone who hasn’t seen yourself reflected in the media in Spain, how have you used your lens to reclaim blackness?
I use my lens to represent the features I didn’t see while growing up including dark-skinned women, wide noses, monolids, and so on.
Why do you chose to document the experiences of other minorities including Asian people, Muslims and Latinos?
I want to create references for these cultures, also for future generations so they don’t have the same experience and feel more included while living in the diaspora. Throughout my life I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many people who live outside of their motherland, they’ve shared their insecurities and pain with me and this is a way of saying ‘’you matter’’ to them.
Are there any other exciting projects you’re working on right now and what’s up next for you?
Right now I’m working on a couple of projects, one with a partner that happens to be from the same country as me. We want to mix the aesthetics of a special celebration of our countries with touches of Afrofuturism. And the other one is about women in Asian culture I’m very excited about but can’t give too many details yet. Working on projects that nurture me culturally is the way I have found comfort as a photographer.
- Esiwahomi Ozemebhoya