DEC 15 - FEB 10



Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso, 1978)

Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo turned to photography after a serious injury prevented him from pursuing a career as an athlete. Ouedraogo has made a particular speciality of travel-based photographic journalism. His approach, which blurs the lines between photojournalism and documentary work, involves, in his words, “not showing the images for what they depict, but for what they transmit”.

The artist’s work has been featured in various publications, including View Magazine and GEO. He won the Coup de Coeur prize at Bourse du Talent two years running in 2009 and 2010 and is a co-founder of the Topics Visual Arts Platform group as well as a co-founder of the BISO Biennial, the first biennial dedicated to sculpture in Africa. Ouedraogo was awarded the Prix de l’Union Européenne at the 9th Rencontres de la Photographies of Bamako (Mali) and was a finalist of the famous Prix Pictet in 2010 (Switzerland).

Working in series of photographs, often spanning over several years, Ouedraogo has been critically acclaimed for his frontal yet humanising approach to portraiture and landscapes. His coverage of environmental emergencies in both Ghana and the DRC have become visual references all over digital and printed media. More recently, the artist has developed increasingly fictional series investigating contemporary notions of identity, animism, and heritage. His work is shown internationally.

DEC 15 - FEB 10  



For his first show with BLAACKBOX, Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo chose to explore a seemingly universal human expression of love through the act of kissing. Yet, however universal a kiss may seem, each and every kiss is inherently unique, as much as it is transformed by context and perception. With this new series created in 2022, the established Burkinabe photographer signs an avant-garde ensemble of pop-expressionist carnal portraits in which sexuality is symbolically suggested by colour, light and texture, to replace the now all-too-common explicit.

First unveiled in June of this year at the Institut Français of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), to great public and critical acclaim, MOKRÉ (Le Baiser) travels abroad for the first time. The various tabou surrounding a kiss vary from region to region, and depend on our beliefs, upbringing. and education as much as on who may be watching. Of courses kissing can take many forms, but the focus of this new body of work is the kiss between people of opposite gender.



Over the span of the last ten years that saw Ouedraogo travel incessantly between Europe and Africa, documenting inequalities and environmental disasters in Accra, Ghana, but also in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he shot his Phantoms of the Congo River series in 2011 and 2013, the world has shifted into an even more extreme battle over natural resources, now existentially political.

One could therefore interpret the artist’s last two series (Fragments des Corps (2021) and Visible-Invisible (2020-2021)) as counterpoints to a global situation that span out of control. What Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo tells us with his new work focused on the human body and spirit, is to look within ourselves for solutions to the problems of the outside. Who are we? What do we want? Where do we come from? These are essential questions if we are to come together and guide global governance.

MOKRÉ (Le Baiser), which translates as The Kiss, marks the most intimate chapter in his visual research of cultural influences on the notion of identity. While the world is fighting for gender equality, the basic freedom of PDA (Public Display of Affection) is still psychologically repressed in many countries around the world. As such, one could easily imagine the invasion of privacy needed to capture the instant of a kiss in Ouagadougou, or even its suggestion. Thus, what Ouedraogo does here is radically opposed to his early years marked by cinema-vérité. In Le Baiser, he chooses to become a metteur-en-scène, composing ideas of intimacy and revealing passion through vivid uses of colour in situ, as well as photographic over impressions that make his compositions almost palpable.

Using flowers in an explosive red background as in Mokré, or shadows backlit on a luxurious arrangement of green plants (Le Parfum de l’Intime), Ouedraogo displays a mastery of the concept of the hidden in his composition. Shadow acts as his ally in most of the photographs presented here. In it, his protagonists escape the overwhelming intrusive look of today’s modern society, in which intimacy is exhibited continuously, especially on social media.

His use of oversaturated chiaroscuro aims to unsettle our gaze, mimicking the sensual uncertainty that comes with the experience of every kiss. In this way, once again, the artist transcends the inherent qualities of the media, which he uses as a great painter would, to amplify emotions.

In the end, the greatest achievement of this series may be its raw ability to capture the relationship between desire and the human body. While always suggesting the concept of a kiss, there is simply no kiss to be seen. The artist decomposes and recomposes narrative and sensorial elements which are evocative of the sexual and amorous attributes of a kiss. But he never shows us an actual kiss. Doing so he flirts with abstraction at times, opening the line separating the visible from the invisible – which, as in his previous work, is a recurring conceptual artistic endeavour of a somewhat animistic nature, which Westerners might also qualify as the sacred.




Klaus PAS

December 2022