Photographer Malick Bodian Captures Mozambique as an Artist in Residence at the Eco-luxury Kisawa Sanctuary (2024)

For photographer Malick Bodian, an invitation to visit the Kisawa sanctuary resort in Mozambique and take part in its Island Residence artistic program was irresistible.

Not only was it an opportunity for his first visit to the country located on the east coast of Africa, but he was also curious about his host.

“My job doesn’t always bring me to Africa, so when I received the call to visit Kisawa and Mozambique, I said ‘yes’ immediately,” recalls the Senegalese photographer. “I’m always curious to visit special projects such as Kisawa — designed so well and carefully taken care of.”

Who wouldn’t be?

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After all, Kisawa isn’t your average luxury hospitality project.

Most hoteliers would start with a location or what experience they want to offer. Not Swiss entrepreneur and Kisawa founder Nina Flohr, a member of the extended Danish royal family after her 2020 wedding to Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark.

For her, the key to bringing the resort to life on Mozambique’s Benguerra Island in late 2021 was establishing the permanent not-for-profit Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies ocean observatory in 2017.

“The reason we opened that station first is because we wanted to send a very strong message why we were working in Mozambique and our views about the relationship between sustainability and luxury tourism,” she says.

Namely, a fusion of for-profit hospitality and nonprofit scientific research centered on the rich marine ecosystem of Mozambique, which Flohr first visited in 2011.

The result is a “resort-to-research” concept that uses part of the proceeds of five-star hospitality to fund the year-round research operation. The data produced here is freely available to scientists and marine conservation around the world.

“We believe that’s a form of regenerative tourism,” says Flohr. “A family can have a fabulous vacation and by coming to our destination enable very, very important work.”

The 740-acre, or 300-hectare, sanctuary of Kisawa, which means “unbreakable” in the island’s Tswa language, was certainly conceived as the pinnacle of eco-conscious luxury by Flohr’s Dubai-based design studio NJF.

Exteriors follow the principles of biophilic mimicry to blend with the surrounding environment and use a blend of local materials and cutting-edge patented technologies, such as 3D printing of mortar made of sand and sea water used in the concrete-free foundations of the resort’s buildings.

Traditional techniques such as weaving, thatching and carpentry were put in service of an aesthetic that blends influences that include the modernism of Jean Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale flat-packed dwellings and Mozambican construction vernacular.

Inside, furniture is African made, as is most of the art commissioned for the resort, in a celebration of the continent’s crafts. There are even craftspeople on-site who continue to create sculptures and other installations for the grounds.

“We’ve established a modern-day interpretation of what we feel Mozambican culture stands for, obviously very much in collaboration with the people that participated in the design, in the construction,” says Flohr.

The result is a dozen bungalows grouped as eight residences ranging from 3,500 to 9,000 square feet, with one to three bedrooms. Each comes with its own open-air deck and infinity pool, as well as a living room and kitchen space.

Elsewhere on the resort are half-a-dozen food and beverage options, where guests can expect to partake in produce fished locally or grown in the resort’s permaculture garden.

Housed in four thatched domes is a Natural Wellness Center providing anything from yoga and meditation to infrared Iyashi Dome therapy, as well as a gym filled with Technogym equipment and a 25-meter lap pool.

All that, however, seems secondary to Flohr as she extols the virtues of what luxury tourism done right can bring to a territory.

“Tourism can be such a big driver for change and by choosing a destination that is remote, that is still evolving on the tourism map, you’re offering huge opportunities for employment, for training, for skill development.”

Out of the resort’s 200-strong staff, around 90 percent are Mozambican and a good proportion come from the Benguerra Island.

“We want to bring out the best in the local environment, rather than trying to import from outside,” says Flohr. And the changes are already tangible.

“We’re seeing them every day, whether it’s people being able to save to build a house locally, asking for a temporary loan in order to obtain further education or getting organized to have a passport and therefore travel to South Africa to see a new country,” she says. “I think you are starting to see a local economy hopefully thrive as a result of local businesses establishing there [due to Kisawa].”

And that’s something the 37-year-old feels today’s luxury traveler has a growing appetite for.

“What people are looking for when they travel [is] a great room experience, but they also want to walk away with something enriching that goes beyond the boundaries of the property,” says the founder and artistic director of the resort. “And that, in my humble opinion, is in nature or through culture.”

Through Kisawa, Flohr hopes to offer both.

The sand dunes and lush coastal forest that guests can explore on electric Mini Moke cars speak for themselves and there’s also the option of participating in BCSS research, joining diving expeditions or gathering data on marine life.

It also serves as the ideal inspiration for the artists invited to the Island Residences artistic program.

After South African marine photographer Helen Walne, Flohr wanted Bodian as the second artist, feeling he would be the best at capturing the country’s contemporary culture and the real personality of its people.

“His eye is incredibly sensitive and so well referenced, yet his work is very of the moment,” says Flohr. “It is evident Malick’s heart is strongly connected to Africa and his progressive style resonates sincerely.”

His resulting “Modern Mozambique” series, exhibited at the resort throughout 2024, tells of sun-drenched landscapes and the even more solar smiles of the Mozambicans he met on a road trip that took him along the coast through Maputo, Vilanculos and Benguerra Island.

“I think it’s important for people to travel across continents, it’s important to inspire each other and see each other’s progress,” he says. “What I like the most about Mozambique is the heritage of the sea: people realizing how important it is to them and everyone and how they protect it.”

Photographer Malick Bodian Captures Mozambique as an Artist in Residence at the Eco-luxury Kisawa Sanctuary (2024)
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