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So a few weeks ago we published covers of a fictional Vogue Africa created by photographer and makeup artist Mario Epanya. His work has sparked tons of discussion, so I decided to get in touch to ask about his background and motivations for creating what has become a somewhat controversial concept.
The Cameroon native grew up around fashion, as his mother was a designer and boutique owner. He was always very artistic–he painted as a teenager–and ultimately moved to Paris in 2000. He started his career assisting at fashion shows and doing makeup for small magazines before securing a job at cosmetics company Dessange. He said, “I was the company’s main makeup artist and hairstylist. I worked with stars like Denzel Washington, Jade Jagger, and Elijah Wood.” In 2007, he quit Dessange to start his own hair, makeup, and photography company, Mario Epanya Productions.
Regarding his idea for Vogue Africa, he said, “I read my first Vogue in 1979 and have been buying it regularly ever since. I always felt that African creativity was not represented.”
He continued, “I also realized that black women in Western magazines didn’t correspond to African beauty. Women in Western magazines frequently had light skin, fine features, and long hair. Today I think black women want to re-appropriate their image and don’t want others to dictate what is beautiful and what isn’t. Beauty is diverse and today we aspire to more diversity of choice. So when I got the idea to create the covers, I said, why not?”
While the covers are breathtaking–and beautiful–several people take issue with Mario’s idea, saying that Africa doesn’t need Vogue to feel validated. According to Uduak of Nigerian Ladybrille Magazine, “Africa has always been and will remain fashionable. African fashion and lifestyle focused magazines have emerged, including Arise and Canoe, offering both Western and African fashion consumers more options. Nevertheless, many Africans and African designers still feel the need for Western validation via VOGUE Africa and similar Western fashion brands, rather than wholeheartedly supporting their own with their pocket book and patronage. African customers will buy VOGUE Africa, despite an African renaissance, before they do their own. It is the reality and psyche of Africans and sadly is what it is. Ultimately, and this is no slippery slope, African publishing businesses in the continent will be forced out of business.”
In response Mario says, “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Africa is behind in a number of sectors, including politics, chemistry, research, I could go on. I’m sorry, but we can’t enter into war with the people who created the internet, cell phones, and airplanes. No, I didn’t create the Ipad, life saving vaccines, or Google but I’m happy for the things that contribute to our lives so that the world advances. I’m not at war with the West…and I think that instead of living in the rancor of a difficult past between the races, we should look at how we can exchange between people.”
“…I love Vogue, champagne, cars, computers, and all the things that modern life bring, and I have no desire to enter into counter productive debates that won’t change anything in everyday life. I think it would suit certain people well if things didn’t evolve. Globalization is real and it’s time for Africa to sit at the table and propose what we can do instead of waiting to hear what we have to or should do. I say YES to Vogue Africa if it will permit dynamic creation in African fashion and YES to Vogue Africa if it would allow Africans to re-appropriate their identity, and YES 10 million times to Vogue Africa. Long live an open minded African continent that continues to make its voice heard. Amen.”
In the future Mario plans to launch his own magazine and also purchase the license to create Vogue Africa himself. He’s more than capable.
It seems the big debate is whether Africa should focus on building its own, or if the continent should embrace ‘globalization’ and align themselves with a powerful brand. There’s another argument: that Africa should put energy into development and building its economy over producing a fashion magazine. Mario responds, “Brazil has its favellas, as does India. And they have their own Vogue editions. I’ll leave you to reflect on that…”
Bombshells, what say you?
See more of Mario’s amazing work at www.marioepanya.com.