How One Photographer Took Spiritual Inspiration From African Woodcarving

Stranded by the pandemic, Yannis Davy Guibinga made a connection with home through his art

Shera - Primary
Shera from the series "Tales of the First Sunrise." Yannis Davy Guibinga

From the book of Genesis to traditional African religions, human stories about the beginning of the universe are often remarkably similar, says Yannis Davy Guibinga, whose new series of photographs, “Tales of the First Sunrise,” imagines what that long ago dawn might have looked like to those who witnessed it. “There’s always an Adam type, and an Eve, two or three people who do something that triggers the rest of creation,” says Guibinga, who grew up in the central African nation of Gabon and is fascinated by indigenous spiritual practices. Now based in Montreal, the 26-year-old has been unable to return to Gabon because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but his art—with its vivid colors and aesthetic inspired by African woodcarving—helps him stay in touch with his homeland. “With photography, I can explore African cultures and artifacts through a contemporary lens. And it’s a way to go back home, by bringing it into my images.”   

How One Photographer Took Spiritual Inspiration From African Woodcarving
The Gods from the series "Tales of the First Sunrise." Yannis Davy Guibinga
How One Photographer Took Spiritual Inspiration From African Woodcarving
Toshiro from the series "Tales of the First Sunrise." Yannis Davy Guibinga

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This article is a selection from the November issue of Smithsonian magazine