Skin is just an organ covering our body until eyes see it. Rwandan-born model Passie Umuhoza started modelling at the age of 15 “with nothing more than the ambition to have quality pictures” before falling in love with the profession and its creativity. Though a world with many hurdles, she wants to continue growing into herself as a proud dark-skinned African model. “I am myself and I don’t want to change that.”
What has been your favourite photoshoot so far and why?
As you can see in my portfolio, I love to do things with special makeup. But my favourite shoot was when I was invited to shoot for two weeks in Malta with six other girls. The whole group was so much fun and Malta was beautiful. And, everything was paid for. We used to shoot in the afternoon, but only if we felt like it or were going with the group. There was no pressure. Of course, we visited the most beautiful places for the shoot. I was on a cloud and made good friends at the same time. Every day, we discovered something new and got to bond with each other. I had a blast!
Noting a mix of Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell with the personality of Maya Angelou and Tupac would be the perfect model, Passie says modelling is a stepping stone to building a platform and connect with people from all ranges and trees. With plans to inspire people, their views and quality of life, she knows exactly how she aspires to live her life in the best way she can. “People who know me know I am obsessed with Maya Angelou and Tupac – the way they moved and danced through all of life’s challenges and could never be defined by one thing only.”
When Passie discovered modelling as another outlet to be creative, photoshoots became a way of self-expression “but also of getting to know how I could pose and unfold and take over the role of the theme.” She started doing everything from styling to deciding the theme of shoots with the photographers.
Some picture have a look that is far from mainstream, is that on purpose? How important is it to you to make sure you also show your African roots?
I am myself and I don’t want to change that. I want to grow into myself as a proud African model that does not follow others or what others prefer. It’s the only way I can stay happy and keep going in a world that is just opening up to dark-skinned people in general, not just models. And, that drive and ambition can only be achieved if I stay authentically myself and love what I do. That’s one of the reasons I have a wide range of differences in my portfolio, since I am not defined by just one thing.
Yes, her portfolio is diverse but Passie has found “the biggest obstacle is being dark-skinned in a White world,” especially whilst living in Belgium where the modelling market for dark-skinned girls was almost non-existent when she started 9 years ago. “Next to that is also the fact that I am not the average height of 1m70 and over. I don’t like to use this as an excuses but rather as a motivation to achieve the goals I have set out for myself,” she explains further of the difficulties she’s faced during her career, “I will not only have succeeded but also proved to people in the modelling world who said it does not happen often and looked at me like I was crazy that they were wrong.” What they should know is that she is crazy – crazy enough to believe she can and will. “Maybe not tomorrow but with my drive and passion I am sure I will. It has been hard and still is. But, the harder, the bigger the satisfaction later on.”
When I asked if there’s a message she’d like to share, she opens her heart with lots of kindness. “Be you and be unique. Be proud and grateful you are given the everyday opportunity to be specially you. Whatever you bring to the table was lacking to begin with, so be fully you.” Despite height and racial barriers, Passie doesn’t put any on her optimism as she wants people to love themselves “and love others!”
What type of photoshoots or modelling jobs would you like to do more of and why? What would be your dream job?
I would love to do more international campaigns, so I can reach people from all over the world. I want to build a large platform with my modelling career.
My dream job would be to shoot with Vogue and become one of their go-to models.
Interviewee: Passie Umuhoza
Website and portfolio: http://www.passieumuhoza.com
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