Mr Labembika combines his childhood in Cameroon with his adult life in London
The artist believes “a camera is a tool that we should use to reach different dimensions within ourselves,” and he uses it to tell stories to make viewers “truly feel”.
- Ruby Boddington
- 16 October 2020
“Being able to capture my reality and share it with others is [what] I love,” says London-based artist Jebi Ndimuntoh, who goes by Mr Labembika in the creative world. Born in Cameroon, Jebi combines his experiences of growing up in west Africa with those he now encounters in London, taking a philosophical stance to his creative practice. “I believe a camera is a tool that we should use to reach different dimensions within ourselves,” he says. “So when photographing someone all I ask is that they give me access to their body, spirit and soul.”
As a child, Jebi was always fascinated by his surroundings, picking up on “those little moments that brought me joy and pain”. He identifies this time as the start of his pursuit of image-making. Importantly, for Jebi, expressing himself visually is less of a desire and more of an inevitability. “Everything starts with an image, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close them at night. Our minds are this never-ending archive of images that keeps on collecting and storing everything and anything we capture,” he says. It’s for this reason he works across several mediums, so that he can share all aspects of “this magic”. He adds: “You need more than one medium to share those files uncorrupted. Using moving image, performance, style and many more, I am constantly letting you into those different images in my head.”
Aesthetically and thematically, Jebi is driven by his childhood in Cameroon and his adulthood in London, and how these worlds collide. “My west African upbringing is very apparent in my work, as it is always looking to grow and expand the general understanding of west African art and its importance to the world,” he says. “My work, in its purest form, is inspired by childhood trauma, politics, religion and fantasy.” It also deals with African identities on a wider scale, looking to transport his audience to his motherland, challenge stereotypes and tell stories above all else. Thanks to Jebi’s outlook on photography, there’s an almost poetic sensibility to much of his work, which is expressed through raw imagery juxtaposed with soft, delicate colours. In turn, his subjects appear to exist in a dreamlike world, rendered as Jebi sees them in his imagination.
When working on a project, Jebi usually begins by writing out all of his thoughts and ideas, always aiming to craft something which tells a story that makes the viewer “truly feel”. His goal, he continues, is to “set the audience free from emotional bondage, I want my audience to heal with me.” This changes somewhat when working on a commercial brief, however, in which it becomes more about the person he is working with. “I need to understand what they want from me and what I need from them,” Jebi says. “That might work perfectly or be an absolute mess, either way, we’re going to make it work.”
One project which we were particularly drawn to is titled Da Last Hair Appointment, and tells a narrative about Black men’s hair. “The black male hair is something that has always remained a mystery to me; he shies away from growing it but hates to cut it, he is constantly debating if styling his hair is an option and to what extent he is we willing to go before it challenges his ‘masculinity’,” Jebi explains. Through creating the series, he therefore aims to understand the pain Black men associate with their hair.
Casting a group of models with long hair from around London, he decided to photograph them as if they were at the hair salon. “This project was heavily inspired by my upbringing in Cameroon and the difficulties I faced around hair,” Jebi tells us. “Growing your hair was never an option in school and if you were to have long hair, you would be punished in front of the whole school. This made me hate my hair and I never found joy in growing it. So in a sense, I was using this project as an experiment to find healing within myself through the hair of others.”
Looking ahead, Jebi has several plans on the horizon, including an exhibition and a short film series called out of the shadow. “It’s a gathering of collected footage during and after quarantine – mostly performative self-portraits, dance, friends, and family,” he hints. “So stay tuned.”
Mr Labembika: London, Da Last Hair Appointment (Copyright © Mr Labembika, 2019)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.