Picture this – a world where self-expression of sexuality and gender knows no boundaries. Stylist and photographer Ib Kamara takes the concept and turns it on its head. Elements of contrast exist in his work – a black man wears a strict vest jacket with garter belts wound around his thighs and a decadent necklace dripping down his neck. In Utopia, this will be the new normal. The Central Saint Martins Fashion Communication and Promotion graduate tells us how these contrasts live within him – from growing up in war-struck Sierra Leone to finding his feet in a free London.
Can you tell us more about the creative process behind the ‘2026’ Utopia Somerset House exhibit?
2026 explores the concept of menswear ten years into the future, taking influences and ideas from London and combining them with South African culture to push ideas of masculinity on the black body.
2026 was a very natural process between Kristin-Lee Moolman and I — we were thrown into this world where nothing was right or wrong, which really enabled us to just create with anything. The idea of creating from nothing is an enjoyable process: to have so little but at the same time being able to make a lot.
In line with the project, in a Utopian fashion world — what would you want to change, as far as black male sexuality stereotypes and images in fashion and media go?
In a utopian fashion world, I’d like everyone to have access to whatever they want. I would love to see black men more expressive; be looked at like every other man in society, be given a chance, not let their masculinity be policed by anyone.
Do you identify yourself with other artists exploring subjects of race, gender and sexuality?
Honestly, I don’t. I think we all have different stories to tell. I was born in a country that was in heavy war for decades, lost lots of friend, grew up glued to the screen watching BBC — all these things play a part in the stories I tell.
Growing up in Sierra Leone, do you find your work reflecting aspects of your formative years, your roots, what you saw as a child and teenager?
Yes, yes. Whilst some kids grew up with pop culture, I didn’t. I grew up watching the news hoping my house won’t get burnt down by rebels, or rebels won’t kill my family. I have roots in Mali, which also influences my work. Growing up, I had to be tough or come across as such. After moving to the west, I realized I am not that tough and I don’t have to be. Some days I honestly just want to turn up to the club in a dress with a slit and that’s fine, why not. Because of my experiences growing up, I am always mixing up ideas, as the contrast between my life then and now is new for me, and it pushes me to be experimental with pushing ideas for images.
What do you want going through someone’s mind when they look at an image made by you?
If people look at my images twice I think I have done a good job. I am really not a fan of the throw away culture. I want my work to make you think, like an advertisement you saw on television that made you leave your house with a smile on your face. That’s what images do to me. Images are supposed to make you angry at your government. They must evoke a radical spirit inside of you, or they might also make you say “yasssss bitch, yassssss.”
The Sensitive Thug – is that you?
Yes that’s me, that’s the Tumblr I started two years ago. It is a place of no fear. I think fear lets down imagination — it is a place that is not censored and I can let loose.
Going through your social media, your references often include iconic figures of the past – can you elaborate on this?
I love the past and I look forward to the future. In an ideal world I would have loved to be a gay jazz singer in the 1920s — the looks I would have gone through and the music I would have made… I think it is important to look at what the people before us have done and what new things we can bring to this world. Many great minds like Simon Foxton, Barry Kamen and Jude blame have paved the way for many of us to be able to think progressively and create.
Fresh out of Central Saint Martins, looking back – how do you think an education at the art and design school affected you?
Central Saint Martins is one of the best places to be. You learn some much from everyone you meet. It radicalizes you. You question everything and come out of it really fucked up, but it’s the best thing that will happen to you.
Words by Akanksha Kamath
Photography by Ib Kamara