One would think this was what she had longed for but that did not seem to be the case because as time rolled by, her desire to be the best in the world of modeling took a different turn. “In 2014, I lost my passion for modeling” Lish stated. “I got tired of being portrayed a stereotyped way - playing the role of the African Goddess; and I found myself just cubed in an acute stage of loneliness. I lost who I was, not really sure what I was doing in this world anymore. I did not have an answer.” In her constant battle to belong, Lish did and still does not think she fits in or has attained the success that she has had as a model, “To be honest, I have not succeeded yet to integrate well in the western world. In the modeling industry, there’s the constant tear-down. I was constantly criticized because of my poses, my pictures and my skin color. In fact, many times I was told that there is no market for black models.” A constant harshness many still deal with today – not only in the fashion industry but also in other industries and institutions. She gives an example of such moments when she was studying for her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management in Amsterdam. The dean bullied her; making her time at the school one of the most difficult times in her life. “He had a theory that beautiful black women like me, do not have enough brains for finance,” she said. “It was disheartening to hear but unfortunately for him, I proved him wrong by making sure I had high grades.” But it seemed her ability to attain high scores was not acceptable. According to Lish, “to some people here, it was impossible for a beautiful black girl from Africa to score a high grade in finance. So whenever I had high grades, I was made to take my examination again.” Yet again, Lish proved them wrong with a Master’s degree in Business Administration. “I have proven to myself that indeed my beauty and skin color have absolutely nothing to do with my brain’s capacity to learn. White, Black, Red or Blue, I can do anything I want.”
Despite the painstaking drive to achieve her set goals and having found some solace in her decision to move to a foreign, Lish still experienced the push back from the naysayers. She was confronted with people who perceive the African continent as primitive; as well as some peoples' hypersexual objectification of the African female body, which also left her occasionally confused about her identity. “To fit in the western society is a constant struggle that leaves me frustrated and depressed with a feeling of not being good enough. “My constant battle to prove myself to the stereotype minds of those with a primitive idealistic perception of the black skin, is just a small example of my experience trying to fit in this society,” she said. “There are positive aspects of moving here from Africa as well but the negative ones really hurt but shaped me.” In her quest to find her place in a different world, Lish had not returned to Kenya for eight years as she worked to transform herself to fit in the European ways of life and into the expectations of others. In the process she became disconnected from her African roots and possibly also from herself. And although she integrated successfully into the Dutch culture and lifestyle, she was homesick, lonely and depressed. In came photographer Dagmar whom she met on Facebook in February of 2016. “She invited me for a drink and I told her my story.” In getting to know Dagmar, she found out that “coincidently her husband is African whose story is very similar to mine; and she knows people with similar stories.” Dagmar saw alot of courage in her; she saw “there’s more that meets the eye,” Lish stated.
Immediately, Dagmar proposed a test shoot with Lish which became a project in itself. “I wanted this project to represent both the traditional and more modern faces of Lish and her roots and culture,” says Dagmar about her poetic series, “In this intimate story, I wanted to explore the possibility of Lish embracing her roots again. Whether she could reconnect proudly with her past in Africa. It became a dual experience of learning about Lish while I documented her,” Dagmar stated.
The photographs are taken in the Dutch countryside, that Dagmar states “appears surprisingly similar to the African countryside – particularly under the presence of Lish.” She explains that as the series is “composed of four bodies, each body evokes different emotions of Lish by exploring parts of her heritage” namely, ‘Mombasa Blues, Luo, Roots and BATIK. ‘Mombasa Blues’ is abstract and color drenched. It refers to the beaches of Mombasa, Kenya and Lish’s deeper emotions – ‘the Blues’ as she longs for her homeland. ‘Luo’ is the Kenyan tribe Lish descents from. “It is in these photos I captured the strong genes and pride that shone through her,” Dagmar chimed. “Roots” is about Lish's traditional, cultural roots and identity. According to Dagmar, “Lish holding a mask refers to her hiding and transformation to affirm her identity.” The last part of the series is ‘BATIK.’ This African fabric goes by a multitude of names but is best known as Dutch wax print or ‘Ankara.’ Though this shows Lish’s ‘Africanness,’ she is wrapped in a Dutch ‘Indonesian’ wax print, BATIK, which Dagmar elaborates - “it references to her current roots in the Netherlands.” There is a very complex and culturally diverse history behind the origin of this fabric. It is “not necessarily authentically African.” Delving into the history of Dutch wax prints draws questions of authenticity and Africanness “which was the metaphor in this part of the series,” Dagmar explained; and according to Lish, “wrapping me in this Dutch African fabric felt uncomfortable and I was not used to her abstract ideas and ways of photographing.” But it turned out to be therapeutic for her, which she admits. “She called it BATIK and learning more about it and seeing the results touched me deeply. The photos portrayed my loneliness exhausted by sorrow.” As she started to feel a connection with her roots and homeland again, “I realized I missed my home, my mother, my culture, my heritage, and the richness of my country, my motherland.” “I realized I had to go back home, I had to go back to Africa. I needed to see my mother and sisters. Bask in the sun and inhale the sweet smell of mother nature. She went back to Kenya recently to visit her family and to experience her past; and as she describes it, “I experienced an epiphany of life – my revolution.”
Through this epiphany, inner strength is on the side of Lish even when she may occasionally get overwhelmed. As she continues to work with Dagmar on different series, her sorrow has turned to joy, her connection to her homeland, her people and her family is stronger and she is more at peace as she makes her way through this class called life. As she thinks about her experiences, she sums it up, “I feel that what separates human beings from animals is that, our minds are civilized in that, we have the ability to be rational differentiating right from wrong. It is primitive to judge people by their skin color. Black, white or red, we are all unique in the face of the world. We have something to offer.”