Photography

PICS | Africa's Pamela Tulizo wins prestigious Dior Photography Award

The Congolese artist's award-winning photographic series, 'Double Identité', reflects her deeply-rooted fascination with the black female identity

19 July 2020 - 00:03 By Nokubonga Thusi
One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
Image: Dior/Pamela Tulizo

The global pandemic has disrupted many things about our lives but we can still celebrate art and expression. The House of Dior swiftly adapted to the times by introducing a digital exhibition format to its annual Dior Photography Visual Arts Award For Young Talent.

The third edition of the prestigious competition, in partnership with Luma Arles and the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles, is usually held in Arles, France, but this year the jury, comprising Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen (jury president), Rachel Rose (US visual artist), Maja Hoffmann (founder and president of Luma Arles), Emma Lavigne (director of the Palais de Tokyo), Helena Christensen (Danish model and photographer), Simon Baker (director of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie) and Jérôme Pulis (international communications director for Christian Dior Parfums) remotely deliberated over photographic works from around the world.

The jury finally selected 14 finalists (11 laureates and three jury mentions), with one winner of the prestigious accolade.

This year the theme "Face to Face" gave creative talents carte blanche to interpret it in whatever medium, style or narrative they saw fit. The winning entry was by Pamela Tulizo, a young photographer and student of the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, who submitted her photographic series, Double Identité.

Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tulizo submitted 13 portraits shot in Goma, North Kivu Region, that express her deeply rooted fascination with journalism and female identity.

At a time when the amplification of black voices is so important, Tulizo's work tackles the many difficulties African women face and how societal challenges affect the black female identity structure.

Her work is so raw and arresting, observers feel like both a voyeur and the subject. The photographs reflect the effects of political, ecological and financial influences that define the perception of African women in society.

One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
Image: Supplied/Pamela Tulizo
One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
Image: Supplied/Pamela Tulizo

The series also puts a spotlight on the role of media in painting a blanket picture of these women as victimized, living in a region plagued with gender-based violence. The series not only turns the lens on the external influences imposed on women but also women's own perspectives and visions of the future.

Tulizo tells us more:

What motivated you to take part in this competition?

Being a young emerging artist, it was a great opportunity to show my work to a varied audience. It also gave me a chance to present my work to a grand jury and to take advantage of an exhibition space. My work received visibility from an international audience, which was great because the series was made with the aim of being exposed outside of my city. When I received the link to apply and saw the theme "Face to Face", I was even more motivated because I'd already created a series in 2019 that could work well with the theme.

‘No matter the country or city, women around the world have the same struggles and battles, just on different levels,’ says award-winning Joburg-based photographer Pamela Tulizo.
‘No matter the country or city, women around the world have the same struggles and battles, just on different levels,’ says award-winning Joburg-based photographer Pamela Tulizo.
Image: Supplied/Pamela Tulizo

How did you interpret the theme?

This series was created in 2019, in Goma, eastern DRC. It wasn't created specifically for this competition but it fitted with the theme. "Face to Face" in my series refers to a parallel projection of two existing, but different realities; reflections of myself facing various situations in the present and in the future.

Women face many social disparities and obstacles such as gender-based violence. How do you hope women who view your series will see themselves reflected in these images?

There's a very great force that binds women together. I know that women are very strong. I hope that women find a certain identity, courage, hope and strength to continue when they look at my work. I want to inspire women to believe in their dreams and ambitions despite the difficulties they face. No matter the country or city, women around the world have the same struggles and battles, just on different levels.

One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
Image: Supplied/Pamela Tulizo

What's your relationship to photography and visual arts? How did you approach the project?

I'm a documentary photographer in an experimental phase of my artistic approach to staging documentary photography. The opportunity to have carte blanche was another reason I felt encouraged to apply with this series. I've used plastic art as my medium — cutting, collage, makeup, staging, fashion and mannequins - and all of these allowed the work to materialise.

Why do you think the Double Identité series resonated so much with the Dior Grand Jury?

Not only does Double Identité fall within the theme of this edition of the competition, but also relates to the story behind the series. I want viewers to understand that there's hope for a good life in the Congo despite the atrocities and that it's necessary to see beyond what's shown on TV and social networks. It is time for Africa, the Congo and Goma in particular to tell their own story.

One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
One of the images from Pamela Tulizo's 'Double Identité' photography series.
Image: Supplied/Pamela Tulizo

How did you feel about presenting your works to an exceptional jury?

When I received the e-mail with the link to apply, I was very motivated but I also knew that it wouldn't be easy, that there would be many applications. It wasn't only about winning or being nominated for me. Above all, I was grateful to have the opportunity to present my work before an exceptional jury, of course with the hope of finally being selected, which would mean being able to finance future work and show my work in a collective and international space.

Who are the photographers or artists who've influenced your photographic style?

When I started, there was no photography or design school or university available to me. I asked photographer Martin Lukongo, whose work I found inspiring, some questions. He taught me the basics of photography and gave me the confidence to keep working as a photographer even when my community didn't agree. He's been by my side throughout all my projects, and worked with me to produce the series Double Identité.

Photographer Pamela Tulizo.
Photographer Pamela Tulizo.
Image: Supplied

After several courses, I found my work felt incomplete in terms of the stories and visual details. I started to use staging, innovation and other artistic mediums to get what I wanted out of it. I have some knowledge of filmmaking and screenwriting, which allows me to write each photo like a movie scene.

Upcoming projects?

I'm in Belgium for a three-month artistic residency. I'm working on a series on social injustice and racial inequality in the world, based on the colour of skin and colonial history. My focus is on how to represent humanity under the image of women but with common ground between everyone.

What other societal narrative would you like to tackle?

I'm stuck in Belgium because of the Covid-19 crisis. When I'm able to return to Goma, I plan to begin a new project that researches old women of Africa.

SEE THE WORK OF THE OTHER FINALISTS

The House of Dior and Luma Arles are showcasing the work of the finalists in the Dior Photography Visual Arts Award For Young Talent competition on both the Dior and Luma Arles Instagram accounts as well as through a digital exhibition on the Luma Arles website.