Here’s looking at you, kid.

Class 3. Today we looked at how one can challenge their environment: The Congo Dandies.

“Go take thirty minutes, watch this and come back.”

He entered the streets with his eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. As he walked down the streets, people left their work and lingered a look at the flamboyant three-piece ensemble.

For the sapeurs, “La Sape” plays an important role in their defiance and cheekiness of their circumstance. The stark contrast of their elegant, bright and loud apparel, to the grim, harsh background of reality speaks volumes on their what is more important.

I found it an interesting phenomenon where unlike many fashion trends that are usually meant for the rich, the Congo Dandies and the whole Seuparism movement is based on poverty-struck, lower-middle class group of people making their own debonair world, which just for some brief seconds gets them away from ‘their world’.

It’s almost as if they take more pride in their appearance and other necessities like food, water and other primary needs are subordinate.

A Land of Men?

It was interesting how there were no women portrayed in the film. After doing some research on Congo Dandies or the sapeurs, I got to know that like many societies in the world, Congo is a patriarchal society where the traditional norm was to pass down clothes to the sons of the family. However, women started buying designer clothes and dressing up too, trying to reverse the per-existing power dynamics. Looking like the terrific creatures we are, they took to the streets and lit it on fire.

“Being a true sapologie is about more than expensive labels: the art lies in a sapeur’s ability to put together an elegant look that is unique to their personality.” — Mee-Lai Stone

Clementine Biniakoulou, housewife and sapeuse for 36 years, in Brazzaville | Photograph by British photographer Tariq Zaidi

Prioritizing dress-code rather than a basic necessities also portrays how something’s are just done for yourself. It is an individual desire to dress fancy, take more time in getting ready and not caring about household expenses. It was also stimulating to see how in movies and shows it’s usually shown that women take more time to get dressed or put more effort into their appearance, but here the stereotypical “we’re late because of you” notion was because of a man.

Absence of visual fodder

After observing and looking at the environment they’re in, we discussed and noticed how there aren’t any billboards or advertisements in Congo. The only bright, lively graphics in the environment were the people themselves.

Along with an absence of visual graphics, there was also a lack of political or campaign posters like the ones found everywhere in India. One possible reason could be that political campaigns in that region might also not make sense as people would demand basic amenities like water or cleanliness to be fixed by the campaigner before they can even think about voting for them. Which is a very valid point. When someone is deprived of their basic needs how can you put up an ad for an I-Phone or a luxury brand product or a powerful person who does absolutely nothing to fix their grievances?

I would like to end with a quote which I remember clearly said by Dinesh, our faculty:

“Anything that is available in extra, no one really cares about it. In our country the thing that is extra is the people. Nobody cares about the people.” — Dinesh Abiram

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