Bold Portraits Celebrate the Rich Cultural History of Kenya Through Hypnotic Patterns

Portrait Photography Thandiwe Muriu

Photographer Thandiwe Muriu highlights the rich cultural history of her Kenyan heritage through stylish, maximalist portraits. The images feature models wearing garments resembling the traditional textiles of various African countries and cultures, and they stand in front of backdrops to match. Together, it has a camouflage-like effect; but the brilliant beauty of the patterns and colors is nothing to try and hide. Rather, Muriu’s images—part of a series aptly titled Camo—command attention and have an almost hypnotic effect on the viewer.

In addition to the striking patterns, there’s another attention-grabbing element to Muriu’s work—the eyeglasses that many of her models wear. They are unusual and made from anything other than glass. Muriu fashions the spectacles out of the likes of plastic hair rollers, modified bike gears, steel wool, and more. Each pair of glasses is a nod to Kenyan culture and/or holds a memory for the photographer.

The set of steel wool spectacles, for instance, is in reference to its ubiquity. “Steel wool,” she writes, “is found in every home in Kenya because it efficiently scrubs sufurias (Swahili for ‘aluminum cooking pots') to shining perfection.” The bike gears are a “nod to the classic Black Mamba bicycle you can see weaving in and out of Nairobi traffic” while the plastic rollers are in honor of a 90s hairstyle known as Curly Kit.

The clothing, background, and eyewear are often accompanied by ornate hairstyles whose structure has an architectural appeal. Taken together, these elements speak to the larger ideas within Muriu’s distinctive work: exploring themes surrounding Black womanhood while challenging conventional beauty standards.

Photographer Thandiwe Muriu highlights the rich cultural history of her Kenyan heritage through stylish, maximalist portraits.

Portrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe Muriu

Through her ongoing series titled Camo, models wear garments resembling the traditional textiles of various African countries and cultures, and they stand in front of backdrops to match.

Portrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe Muriu

The images have an almost hypnotic effect on the viewer.

Portrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe Muriu

Together, it has a camouflage-like effect; but the brilliant beauty of the patterns and colors is nothing to try and hide.

Portrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe Muriu

In addition to the striking patterns, there’s another attention-grabbing element to Muriu’s work—the eyeglasses that many of her models wear.

Portrait Photography Thandiwe Muriu

They are unusual and made from anything other than glass.

Portrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuPortrait Photography Thandiwe MuriuThandiwe Muri: Website | Instagram | Facebook

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Thandiwe Muri.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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