Ibrahim Kamara: Reinterpreting Masculinity Through Fashion Styling

What will masculinity look like in the next few years? Ibrahim ‘Ib’ Kamara, a Sierra Leone-born stylist and artist, has some thoughts on what that could be. Should this be your first introduction to Kamara’s body of work, don’t expect to see the stereotypical approaches to menswear and masculinity. In fact, his portfolio is best known for disrupting these very typecasts, be they Western pigeonholes or African sartorial codes. So, who is this stylist who is utilising fashion’s platform to resuscitate the conversation on gender perception and black masculinity?

[Image: Tim Walker | MUA: Ammy Drammeh]

Kamara may have been born in Sierra Leone, and spent his formative years in Africa, but he relocated to London at the age of 11. It’s there that he later attended Central Saint Martins (CSM) – one of the world’s top fashion schools with alumni such as Zac Posen, Stella McCartney, and the late Alexander McQueen. According to an article by the BBC, ‘”The training is very anti-establishment. But that is underpinned by a knowledge of pattern cutting and how clothes hang. It’s not an anarchic free-for-all, there’s a rigour in terms of the disciplines that go towards making a designer.”

Daze Digital Summer 2018 [Image: Sean and Seng | MUA: Ammy Drammeh]

In addition to attending an art school with a reputation of nurturing the free-thinkers and nonconformists, he was also mentored by the late Barry Kamen. When speaking to Dazed Digital, Kamara expressed that it was time at CSM that prepared him to work with the Buffalo icon, Kamen. “Barry was like a dad to me…I learned from him there’s no one way to styling or creating an image. It’s about your story. There was no right or wrong, we saw “fashion” as a feeling, innocent, carefree.” While Kamen gave him the tools to express a dissident point of view, his multi-cultural exposure created his fearless and distinctive styling signature. “There’s a sense of this “I don’t give a f**k” attitude in my work, always this sense that what I’m referencing has nothing to do with fashion at all…There always has to be a meaning to the images I create,” he elaborates. The sum of experiences helped him to produce ‘2026’.

2026 [Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Art direction and styling: Ibrahim Kamara]
2026 [Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Art direction and styling: Ibrahim Kamara]
 

For his final project at CSM, he exhibited the ‘2026’ series as part of “Utopia Voices, Here and Now” at Somerset House. It was his first time showing in an art exhibition and it was a break-out success. Collaborating with South African photographer, Kristin Lee Moolman, he created the series that goes beyond the fashion industry’s favourite buzzword, androgynous. Rather, this project focused on unorthodox modes of self-expression and the beauty that can be achieved by merging different cultures. Shot in 2016, it envisioned what black masculinity would look like in 10 years to start the much-needed conversation. “I grew up in a very strict environment and 2026 was very much my coming out story…2026 is a celebration of just being yourself, and those are the things that are super important to my work. The idea that you claim your space and you fight back, at least once in your life. I want black men, gay, straight, transgender, bi, or whatever to fight back and express themselves. That’s new Africa to me,” he said in an interview with Protein Magazine.

2026 [Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Art direction and styling: Ibrahim Kamara]
2026 [Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Art direction and styling: Ibrahim Kamara]
 

While he is based in London, he does a considerable amount of work on the African continent. For example, he teamed up with photographer Nadine Ijewere to reimagine the Stella McCartney SS17 Collection in Nigeria. He also worked with photographer Ruth Ossai and filmmaker Akinola Davies to reframe the Kenzo SS17 collection in southern Nigeria. He’s also focused on dispelling misconception of style when it comes to Africa, “People have an idea of what visuals look like before they have seen them, based off things they’ve seen in media. It’s quite problematic because Africa has progressed so much sartorially, and what continues to be spread in the media isn’t an accurate reflection of what is going on presently,” he told The Fader.

[Image: Ruth Ossai | Stylist: Ib Kamara | Designer: Mowalola Ogunlesi]
[Image: Ruth Ossai | Stylist: Ib Kamara | Designer: Mowalola Ogunlesi]
 

Other projects he’s produced includes a portfolio for Burberry’s September 2017 collection.

AWENG [Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman]
ABDOURAHMAN [Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman]
ABDOURAHMAN [Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman]
 

As well as the latest edition of Late at Tate Britain called ‘Stance’. According to Something Curated, Kamara and Moolman worked with Gareth Wrighton to reimagine 16th century art, centring on the “reclamation of cultural identity through fashion and style.”

[Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Fashion: Ibrahim Kamara and Gareth Wrighton]
[Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Fashion: Ibrahim Kamara and Gareth Wrighton]
[Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Fashion: Ibrahim Kamara and Gareth Wrighton]
[Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Fashion: Ibrahim Kamara and Gareth Wrighton]
[Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman | Fashion: Ibrahim Kamara and Gareth Wrighton]
 

Kamara’s unique styling creates a distinctively African body of work that explores and expands the idea of menswear and masculinity. By putting the message before the fashion, this stylist displays that you can still make your mark in fashion without having to compromise or conform to the corporate side of the fashion industry. Whether he’s working with clothes sourced from flea markets, or models/subjects that are heterosexual, he illustrates that it goes further than what one wears. ‘It’s about the attitude, the intention, the style, the presence.’ Fashion has always been considered a representation of the times. From the feelings and social commentary to trends and style predilection. With stylists such as Kamara taking the reins, not only are we seeing more diversity, we’re seeing that there is more than one way to be our authentic selves.

[Image: Candy Magazine]

On that note, we leave you with some visuals from Little Dragon’s video – Strobe Light, which Kamara directed with Moolman in South Africa:

 

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