‘Beneath Our Skin Lies the Sun’ by Ivorian Photographer, Keren Lasme, is an ongoing project highlighting the beauty, strength and softness of albino women from Ivory Coast. Oculocutaneous albinism, also known as Albinism, is an autosomal recessive disorder characterised by a lack of pigment in the hair, skin, and eyes. Albinism is quite common in sub-Saharan Africa and has long been associated with stigmas and superstitions with the beliefs that albino body parts are good-luck charms or possess magical powers. Unfortunately, these misconceptions and false beliefs have resulted in the abduction, rape and murder of many of albinos across Africa.
“In the context of being in Abidjan, I was just wondering, who are the people here who are marginalised? I wanted to tell a story that was not alienating but was empowering” explains Keren. The bold direct gaze into the lens from her subjects, challenges the viewer to no longer perceive them as ‘different’ or a ‘minority’, but to accept them as a part of society. Keren’s deliberate choice of photographing her subjects from a lower angle to give that assertive and dominating feel, successfully engages the audience in recognising the strength and resilience of these women. The images illustrate the effort that these woman are making in defying society’s negative misconceptions and working tirelessly to shift a narrative that has long been projected onto them.
The albino community in Ivory Coast is marginalised even to the point of where they live. Many are not seen fully integrated into society especially due to certain myths claiming that they have magical powers and some even being killed and used in rituals with the belief that it will bring those participating ‘good fortune’. “Women are marginalised in society, so imagine being an albino woman. I wanted to tell their story in a way that was inspiring and that did not emphasise their skin condition, because most of the time, when they are being photographed, you have this mystery and alienation with them being portrayed as mystical.” Keren said. She went on to say, “They are different but they are also human beings. I spoke to them about how albinism affects their lives and the sun was a reoccurring theme because they had to protect their skin by not being under the sunlight for too long. I found it fascinating because we as Africans need the sun, the sun is like our fuel, it affects our emotions and mental health but they have to shield themselves from the sun and that’s how I came up with the title ‘beneath our skin lies the sun.” The women featured in the project are bright reflecting that even though they have to shield themselves from the sun, they are the sun in themselves.
Despite many albinos battling with dangers due to the sun and occultists, many albinos unfortunately also face high unemployment due to the belief of them being blind (as many albinos have poor eyesight). This ignorance leads many employers hindering and stunting the economic growth of albino because of the idea that they are inadequate to work and refusing to hire them for jobs.
When asked how important is the conveyance of a message in a photograph as supposed to the aesthetics, Keren responded saying, “I think the message of course is very important, and I will always go back to the intentions of why you are doing what you are doing. Going back to that context of the gaze, what is your gaze doing? Is it romanticising or exoticising? Of course we want something that is beautiful but we don’t want something that repeats the same trope of how Africa is being presented.”
Keren is an Ivorian-French self-taught Photographer, Mixed Media Artist and Art Director based between London and Abidjan. She holds an MA in African Studies from SOAS University of London with a major in African philosophy, a discipline which highly influences her art. She describes herself as an aesthete and a storyteller who uses photography to explore the Self and communicate her experiences, thoughts, feelings and knowledge. To view the rest of her work, visit her website