Where are the leaves we cut?

Christoph Montebelli

2018 - 2019

Our century will be the century of the African city: no other continent will experience faster urbanisation, and the first city of 100 million inhabitants will be in Africa. Until 2030, Abidjan will be growing on average by 22 people every hour, as opposed to only seven people in Paris and nine people in New York or London. Lagos will even add 83 people in the same time frame. Every single hour.


The long-term project “Where are the leaves we cut?” accompanies young couples, often from the outskirts of their cities or recently arrived from the countryside, on their odyssey through eight African metropolises: Abidjan, Lagos, Casablanca, Tunis, Dakar, Nairobi, Cairo and Johannesburg. The project, planned to be published as a book, is intended to be a contribution to the debate of the place of the African city in the world.

The selection presented follows Martine and Joel on their travels through the centre of Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, a mega-city and chimera cast in concrete that hovers over the dark brackish waters of an enormous lagoon bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Martine and Joel live in one of the poorish neighbourhoods of the Eastern suburbs; the reality of their life is far away from the shiny boutiques and glass skyscrapers that dominate the heart of the city, which have earned Abidjan epithets such as the "Paris of Africa" or the "Manhattan of Africa".


The title of the series derives from an anecdote of the origin of Abidjan’s name. According to this legend, a European colonist met more than one century ago an African on the edge of the lagoon and asked, «What is the name of this place?» The local did not understand the language of the stranger and believed that he was asked to explain what he was doing. He said, "T’chan m’bi djan", which meant: I have just cut leaves. The stranger understood "Abidjan" and mistakenly thought that this was the answer to his question…

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  • Untitled (the cathedral)

  • Untitled (la Pyramide)

  • Untitled (against the wall)

  • Untitled (the hug)

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  • Untitled (Martine)

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  • Untitled (the mirror)

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  • Untitled (lagoon I)

  • Untitled (wall)

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  • Untitled (temple)

  • Untitled (one of the leaves we cut)

  • Untitled (lagoon II)