Vibrant scenes of West African Life

Vibrant scenes of West African Life

New exhibition Meeting at the Volta celebrates the revolutionary energy of youth across generations.

As the African Independence Movement swept across the continent, the people of Upper Volta threw off the yoke of colonialism in 1960, expelling the French and forging a new nation now known as Burkina Faso.

That same year, 17-year-old Sanlé Sory opened the Volta Photo Studio in Bobo-Dioulasso. Adopting the popular 6 x 6 format camera, Sory could readily move between the studio and the street, crafting a captivating portrait of a new generation revelling in the possibilities of freedom on their own terms.

Half a century later, Namibian-born white photographer Kyle Weeks embarked on “Good News,” a six-year project chronicling the cultural renaissance blossoming across Accra at the start of the 21st century.

Now the two show their work side by side in Meeting at the Volta. Envisioned as a bridge across time, space, and race, the exhibition takes its title from the Volta River, which runs through both Ghana and Burkina Faso, connecting at what is known as the Black Volta.

Top to bottom: Le Rasta Cool, Sanlé Sory 1980; Prince, Accra, Ghana, Kyle Weeks 2016

“I see this exhibition as a tribute to West African youth, reflecting their resilience, creativity, and unapologetic spirit,” says Weeks. “It is an exploration of how they navigate the complexities of identity, grappling with the remnants of a recent colonial history, and a rapidly modernizing world.”

Meeting at the Volta celebrates the revolutionary energy of youth and their insistence in forging new identities on their own terms. Within the works, a shared sensibility is clear: one that centres the beauty, pride, style, and creativity of their respective sitters.

These are not merely portraits; they are historic documents of time and place whose resonance and influence grows with each passing day. Weeks, like many of his contemporaries, draws inspiration from Sory’s extraordinary archive, recognising the ways in which the act of photography becomes a tool of empowerment and cultural preservation.

Top to bottom: Lingénieur du son, Sanlé Sory, 1984 Diving Tower, Accra, Ghana, Kyle Weeks, 2000 Na Dalo Volta Jazz Bolero, Sanlé Sory, 1973

“Sanlé Sory’s work has encouraged me and others to elevate our own practice, to highlight a shared humanity, and in doing so bridge societal divides,” says Weeks.

Sory stands alongside giants of West African photography including James Barnor, Malick Sidibe, and Seydou Keïta — all of whom have used the camera a tool of liberation to reclaim the image of African from the racist tropes of colonizers.

Recognising the fraught history of white male photographers working on the continent, Weeks adopts a long-term collaborative approach, getting to know the community in order to create a heartfelt love letter to Ghana and its people.

“I immersed myself in the local culture, conversations, and daily lives of the people to gain an understanding of how the environment affects identities and narratives,” says Weeks.

“Accra city isn't just a backdrop, it's an active participant in shaping the lives and expressions of its people. The vibrant streets, local hangouts, fashion scenes, and cultural events all play crucial roles in defining the collective identity of the youth. Each photograph tells a story of creativity and perseverance.”

Shadraq, Accra, Ghana, Kyle Weeks, 2020

Meeting at the Volta | Sanlé Sory / Kyle Weeks through December 22, 2023, at David Hill in London.