When Synthia Bahati’s Burundian family first moved from Tanzania to Auckland’s North Shore as refugees, they were a source of fascination. “People would come up to [my mum] and grab her hair like she was a little pet or something. She felt very much like a spectacle.”

Now as a photographer, Synthia is the one doing the gazing. She’s presenting herself and her community through her own lens. “A lot of my work is for African people, people of colour who can relate to not having images of them up,” says Synthia. “I’m celebrating their colour and their beauty.”

Woman combing her braided hair with her hands

Together with her younger siblings Sonielle, a painter, and Frandson, a videographer, Synthia is hosting an exhibition titled Regarde Moi, which translates from French to ‘Look at Me’. After a childhood influenced by tall poppy syndrome and discomfort from sticking out from her classmates, Synthia and her siblings are now inviting people’s gazes because it’s on their own terms.

“I guess we’re just doing something for us, by us,” says Synthia.

So, unsurprisingly, the exhibition is grounded in their own personal community. Regarde Moi features images of people who’ve supported them through their lives, including five years ago when Sonielle, aged 14 at the time, was diagnosed and treated for bone cancer. Sonielle is now cancer-free, but there are lingering physical and mental effects. And for Synthia, seeing the initial wave of support following her sister’s diagnosis and its gradual waning made her realise, “all you really have is your family and the people closest to you. Those are the only people you can really rely on.”

See Regarde Moi

Where: After Ours Studio, 4 Cross St, Auckland

When: Friday 20th September, 7.30-11.30pm


Interview by Aleyna Martinez

Words by Maggie Shui