CNN Photos

Not your typical princesses

In Africa, hundreds of monarchies continue to prosper in self-ruled kingdoms, some following traditions that predate Europe’s nobility.

These monarchies don’t necessarily lead countries, but they hold great importance in communities and tribes within the countries. In South Africa, for example, fanciful tales of princesses and their suitors are part of the nation’s cultural tapestry.

This is the inspiration behind “Nkosozana,” a project by South African art director-turned-photographer Dylan Davies.

Longing for his homeland, Davies returned to South Africa and staged a series of portraits to reflect his feelings about the country and illustrate its cultural diversity.

In “Nkosozana,” which means princess in Xhosa, Davies created fictional princesses to channel a multitude of identities and spirits of the so-called Rainbow Nation.

“In each princess, there is a little bit of truth and a little bit of fiction,” Davies said. “They are the conjuring up of my memories of being back home, of the places I’ve visited and lived.”

With made-up names, kingdoms and costumes, Davies sculpted each “princess” with adornments that represented his geographical and historical experiences. Using his art-directing skills, he rallied some high-skilled fashion and commercial designers to visit junkyards and second-hand stores in Cape Town, South Africa, to dress each princess into his vision.

“It was a humongous undertaking, more than I expected,” said Davies, whose laborious film processing eventually required a special scanner in Norwich, England. “But most of all, it was a challenge to myself to become a conceptual photographer.”

Each woman in this series radiates power, pride and self-determination. They are stunning creatures living in Davies' own mythology of his nation.

They are modern-day freedom fighters, at times covered in gold, petroleum or another minerals native to his land. There are also junkyard relics, guns and recycled military paraphernalia. In these photos, there are no shriveling daisies.

"Women are revered within tribal culture … they occupy a very dominant space," he said.

Davies said most of his models showed great enthusiasm for the project. Except for a student who is photographed as a maid.

"They really got into character except for this one,” he said, referring to the woman in the first photo here. “She was a student, going to university, and the concept of the maid has controversial connotations in South Africa."

- Helena Cavendish de Moura, Special to CNN