After reading an article about the atrocities facing people with albinism in Tanzania, Nairobi-based photographer Sarah Waisa (b. 1980, Uganda) felt compelled to raise awareness about the issue. Waiswa reached out to the Kenyan Albino Society, where she was put in touch with Florence Kisombe, the woman we see in Strangers in a Familiar Land, standing proudly and elegantly against the poverty-struck backdrop of a Kenyan slum.
A documentary project with a fashion editorial feel about it, the Kiberan shanty town is a metaphor for the artist’s “turbulent vision of the outside world”, whilst Waiswa challenges the beauty standards set by society, dressing and posing Kisombe in an unexpected way. Despite suffering verbal abuse throughout the shoot – Waiswa explains that passers-by “were staring and name calling and some wanted to take photos of her” – Kisombe appears beautiful and triumphant in the resulting images.
A key motivation for Waiswa to take on the project was to Illustrate “the life of an albino who is forced to face challenges emanating from both the sun and society”, but beyond that, she used the opportunity to highlight a serious issue in a positive way, creating beauty.
Earlier this year, Sarah Waiswa won the 2016 Discovery Award at Rencontres d’Arles for her series Stranger in a Familiar Land.