In The Prophecy, a striking series by Dakar-based photographer Fabrice Monteiro, majestic alien creatures wear hoop skirts and headdresses made from soda cans, garbage bags, fishing nets, tortoise shells, and the odd baby doll. It isn’t just fashion photography at its most theatrical and cinematic: There’s a vivid environmentalist message here, though it doesn’t look like any anti-pollution campaign you’ve ever seen.
To visualize the pollution problem that plagues Senegal, Monteiro collaborated with fashion designer Doulsy and the Ecofund Organization to create otherworldly costumes from trash they found around the country. Posing in 10 environmentally imperiled sites throughout the country, the characters pictured here were inspired by Gaia, the ancient Greek personification of Mother Earth. Fed up with trying to maintain nature’s cycles in the face of overconsumption and pollution, Gaia sends djinns, supernatural genies, to give humans a message “of warning and empowerment,” as Monteiro puts it in a statement.
In a shot taken at Mbeubeuss, Senegal’s largest waste dump, a giantess emerges from a mountain of garbage, peering out over what was once a green marsh district. In Dakar’s Hann Bay, a creature with tubing for tentacles crawls out of the sea onto a formerly pristine beach now strewn with cow skulls and blood from a nearby slaughterhouse. In Tambacounda, a woman costumed as a giant tree is flanked by flames — fires in the region destroy up to 700,000 hectares of woodland annually.
The images were recently part of the exhibition Africa: Architecture, Culture and Identity at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Monteiro, who grew up in the West African nation of Benin in the 1980s, avoids a trap into which many artists and members of the media fall: Perpetuating insidious stereotypes by sensationally depicting Africa as a nest of violence and poverty. Instead, he highlights the beauty of the Senegalese landscape and creates art from the debris that pollutes it, revealing how waste can be upcycled and reused.