Thandiwe Muriu’s book is a ‘living archive’ of ankara fabrics

The Kenyan artist’s debut book, Camo, brings together her vibrant, intricately layered photographs, which are painstakingly created without digital manipulation

A woman wearing a headdress and garment in a green, blue and black square pattern, which blends into a backdrop in the same pattern
All images from Camo © Thandiwe Muriu

Thandiwe Muriu, a Kenyan artist based in Nairobi, has released her first monograph, Camo, which chronicles her photographic work over the last few years.

Muriu was 14 years old when she first discovered photography, playing around with her father’s old Nikon camera. Immediately inspired, she began consuming as much literature and video tutorials as she could, working professionally in the industry by the age of 17 and landing her first solo advertising campaign at the age of 23.

As a woman operating in a male-dominated industry, over the years Muriu found herself frequently questioning “the role of women in society, the place of tradition, and her own self-perception”. These questions later inspired the Camo series that forms the basis of the book, which sees Muriu visually explore ideas of beauty, identity and empowerment.

A woman wearing a pink glasses and a garment in a yellow and green swirling pattern, which blends into a backdrop in the same pattern

In the book, Muriu’s stunning photographs show women wearing custom garments made by tailors using African ankara wax textiles as they pose against backdrops created in the same material. The foreground and background blend into one another by carefully arranging the scene, rather than by digitally manipulating the patterns.

The artist describes the series as a “living archive” of design trends, while reflecting her own perspective. “I honour it as a traditional cloth but select geometric shapes that my generation can identify with, rather than the symbolic prints my mother would choose.”

Writing in the book’s foreword, Nigerian creative director Oyindamola Fakeye says that “the publication flows like a kaleidoscope: each turn reveals a new pattern, a new perspective, a new narrative. We are invited to witness a sensory experience of colour, form, and light – a symphony that tells our stories, speaks to our struggles, and rejoices in our triumphs.”

A woman wearing a blue flower-shaped sunglasses, and a headdress and garment in a yellow, blue and black graphic pattern, which blends into a backdrop in the same pattern

A range of everyday objects also appear in the photographs, including toilet paper rolls, hair pins and mosquito repellent coils. These accessories serve as signifiers of Kenyan creativity and adaptability, Muriu explains: “When you have little, you transform and reuse it.” In doing so, the artist elevates the mundane, allowing the objects to transcend their original function and become things of beauty.

Another key focal point within Camo is the hairstyling, including many styles that Muriu describes as “architectural”, which find their roots in traditional East African culture. Muriu chooses to at once embrace these styles and adapt them through a “contemporary and Afro-futuristic lens”.

A woman wearing a garment in a maroon and white starburst pattern, which blends into a backdrop in the same pattern

“From the hair braiders to the textile sellers, her images encapsulate the diverse roles that shape the tapestry of womanhood,” notes Fakeye. “Each photograph becomes a mirror for those seeking representation and a platform that celebrates their identity.”

In the book, each image is accompanied by an insightful African proverb, written out in both Swahili and English, nodding to the “collected wisdom of generations that continue to inspire”.

Camo is published by Chronicle Books;