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Vanitas, 2010-2015


In Vanitas, Yves Sambu combines a fascination for the elegant Sapeurs of Kinshasa with fearful childhood memories of traversing cemeteries with his grandmother. The project was inspired by the Sapeurs’ yearly gathering at Gombe cemetery, to commemorate the death of Stervos Niarcos, the king of SAPE, or ‘Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes’ who died on 10 February 1995.


The Sapeurs dress up as dandies, wearing famous brands or their own designs, self-made or fondly purchased, in outfits meticulously put together in accordance with a clear set of rules. These rules extend to behaviour: a Sapeur chooses a way of life full of beauty, compassion, goodwill, and dignity. Yves Sambu considers SAPE a form of religion, revolving around respect for oneself, the body, purity, beauty, and harmony; a form of nonviolent resistance amidst harsh conditions. Cemeteries as the setting of choice emphasise the movement’s religious aspect, as well as provocative protest against an urban environment in decline. Yves Sambu sees the Sapeurs as artists, who through their “vanity” create a very contemporary vanitas and a new home.

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