Dominique Sindayiganza / Gina Minelli
Dominique Sindayiganza is a socially-driven photographer. Sindayiganza focuses primarily on the photography of people, combining strong colors with visual cues from subjects’ poses, setting, and attire to deliver a thematic message. An active volunteer and community supporter, Sindayiganza has mentored teens and young adults through the Global Kids organization. He demonstrates his love for his adopted home through volunteerism, activism, and photography to improve the world we live in.
Born in Belgium, Sindayiganza now resides in Jamaica, Queens, a diverse and colorful community that is home to people from many countries. The notion of identity is a recurring theme in his work, and is one that he has explored in several exhibitions. While all people grapple with self-image and identity nowadays, especially during their formative teen years, immigrants face more complex and multi-faceted questions as they bridge differing countries, cultures, languages, and customs.
In his photographic series The Identity Project, Sindayiganza worked with young adults from immigrant families to explore the meaning of identity to them. These were students that Sindayiganza worked with at Global Kids, and he enlisted their help to demonstrate the duality of their experience as assimilated high school and college students in the United States while simultaneously maintaining the culture and customs that they and their families brought with them from their home countries. The images in the series depict each subject in dual settings: one that celebrates the culture and customs of their origins, and another in a more typical everyday setting around New York City. At its core, it seems to ask whether these young immigrant Americans are one person or two. It hints at the complexity of the issue of identity, and how it affects family members of different generations.
Another interesting exploration of identity is found in the series, Switch. Sindayiganza posed pairings of colleagues from the World Fellowship Center for full length portraits, then had them exchange clothing and reshot the portraits in identical poses. The series included male-female and same sex groupings, as well as pairings of subjects across racial and generational lines. Most of the subjects gaze frankly and calmly into the lens, while a few smile. Someone reading a description of this exhibit without seeing the associated images would likely draw the conclusion that this is a statement about gender identity, and perhaps it is, but not in the way that the reader might assume. Taking the photographs of the collection as a whole, the visual message seems to be that the clothes do not matter, the people within them are the people within them regardless of how they are packaged.
Culture and ancestry are both the literal and figurative themes of the photographic series, Roots. Sindayiganza depicts a series of children and adults in the traditional colors and folkloric apparel of their ethnic home in a park, surrounded by large trees and exposed roots. There is a peaceful quality to the beauty of these images. The trees are old, unmoving, and firmly rooted to the earth in the same manner that people are connected by the branches of their family trees to their ancestors, customs, and homelands. In the case of some second and third generation immigrants, the outward manifestations of that heritage may fade, but it remains within us. Like the seed that grows from a sapling in to a great, old tree over centuries, the rings of every previous growing season, drought, and injury remain within us.
Although much of Sindayiganza’s work centers around questions of identity, his ultimate goal is to adopt his photography to improve the lives of people in the local community. In 2012, he started a series entitled Hands Up for Freedom that explores the meaning of the word freedom to the people of Jamaica, Queens. Although the word has many interpretations, one of the subtexts of this series is the relationship of the local community with the police that patrol its streets. Many in the community believe that police “stop-and-frisk” tactics are a rights violation, and that there is evidence of racial bias in the administration of this law enforcement tactic. Sindayiganza himself was questioned by the police in a case of mistaken identity, and then later arrested when he politely refused to follow a direction from the officer that he felt infringed upon his freedom.
Recent current events have highlighted the problem of police violence against minorities, resulting in the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter social media campaign for awareness and justice. In this climate, the notion of freedom in a community like Jamaica, with a strong minority and immigrant presence, is an important theme. For many residents, freedom is an aspirational goal, and sadly not something they feel they have or can take for granted. Sindayiganza created the Project Freedom series to explore the meaning of the word to Jamaica residents. He set up a small photographic set in the Jamaica Market, a food court, for two days per week in February with a simple sign that read “Free Portraits.” He photographed the people who came to him, and discussed the subject of freedom and what it means to be free with them. Those photographs, and the surrounding conversations, formed the basis for the text and images of The Freedom Project that the artist further explores in Jamaica Flux: Workspaces & Windows 2016.