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Sarah Waiswa takes images from the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection and responds to them with her own portrait photographs.

Waiswa places her contemporary portraits of African people alongside manipulated portraits from the archive to challenge colonialism, power and identity. By obscuring the subjects so only their silhouettes remain, Waiswa interrupts the colonial gaze and takes the power away from the photographer.

“The archival images show the power imbalance that existed between the colonialists and the natives. In the archival images, the photographers had the power to define the narrative. They presented the people in the way they saw them, and not necessarily as who they were. The Kenyans pictured are seen but not really seen.” Sarah Waiswa

The archive photographs in Lips Touched with Blood are from the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection at Bristol Archives. The collection contains around half a million photographs from the countries of the former empire, alongside film, oral history, objects and documents. The photographs date from 1860-1970s, and were mostly taken by British travellers.

Sarah Waiswa is a documentary and portrait photographer based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is particularly interested in exploring identity on the African continent. Sarah had access to thousands of digitised archive images via the new British Empire & Commonwealth Collection online catalogue.

This exhibition is part of Bristol Photo Festival.

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