In his series “Volta Noire” and “Boni”, French photographer Jean-Claude Moschetti explores West African spirituality, traditions and beliefs in ancestors and protective spirits. Both frightening and funny, his colourful figures are set against bleak, earthy backgrounds to create striking contrasts. Part of an ongoing work called “Magic on Earth” that began in 2010, the photos have been shot in Burkina Faso and show characters that are not disguised humans, but spirits travelling between the earth and the realm beyond.
“It is this supernatural entity that I try to put forward in my photographs. My subject is not so much the costumes and the masks but rather the magical world that is superimposed on reality in West Africa,” writes the photographer. “These spirits come to advise and protect the living who honour them. The traditions remain very much alive in rural Burkina Faso. Masks appear for important events in life, the celebration of the harvest, the passage from childhood to adulthood, and the final passage into the afterlife.”
Compositions like triptychs and diptychs allow Jean-Claude to deconstruct the space and to build it again in a new more poetic way. He aims to create a fourth dimension, depict a crossing between two domains. He photographs the supernatural creatures motionless, as if they were watching us and asking what we do with our lives. The project is also a work on the act of looking. We often look without seeing, we stop at the surface of things. The photographs invite us to reconsider what might seem to us obvious and common. More generally, the artist questions the reality we see, and wishes to inspire doubt in our minds, suggesting that things are not always what we believe we see.
Jean-Claude has travelled extensively throughout Africa as an independent press photographer. “The African continent is steeped in a rich and complex history of mysticism and in many traditional societies magic is accepted as an integral part of life,” he continues. “But unlike the Western interpretation of magic as a series of smoke and mirrors, magic in the African sense is part of the physical realm, a physical reality that manifests during rituals often through the wearing of masks. By donning a mask, the wearer straddles both the physical and mystical realm, and becomes a conduit between the living world and the supernatural world of the dead, the ancestors and other mysterious entities. As a Vodun initiate of the Egungun cult in Benin, I had a unique insight into this world of shadows.”
Jean-Claude Moschetti is represented by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (Chicago) and Ebony Curated (Cape Town).