PHOTOGRAPHERS, WHO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO

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Six male avant-garde fashion photographers deploy their creativity in the service of social reformation. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

Gbam! is the catchword for this rare show. Aptly derived from a visual symbol of agreement, with clenched fists, the sub-theme is simply “Unearthing and Reclaiming a New Becoming”. What then is the agreement made by six youthful artists representing a new breed of photographers? Essentially, it’s about changing the cultural narratives of and for the African people. As clichéd as that may sound, the first taste of their artistic expressions recently struck a chord of recognition of some sacred aspects of African culture that had been frontally challenged by some of these artists at this on-going show, which runs till September 15.

Let’s look at the pieces from the walkway at the entrance of The Wheatbaker hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos. Lex Ash’s photography is one pot simmering with heated conversations around cultural sentiments that may be obsolete. Hot debates can easily be sparked with his Kolanut story in “Ekpere’’. But Ash is not looking to curate troubles. He might have been intrigued by an experience he had at his homestead, somewhere in the South-eastern part of Nigeria, but at the moment, his artistic expression in “Ekpere’’ reeks of global relevance. It’s in the news that women are finally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. For Lex Ash, the women in Igboland deserve similar liberation. They should be allowed to break kolanut- an age-long tradition that had been the preserve of men. As it stands now, it doesn’t matter how young a man is; once he is in a traditional setting, he is expected to break the kola nut even where grey-haired women are present. With the red cap wearing female in Ash’s daring work, he hopes to propagate the seed of women empowerment as a photographer.

Noma Osula’s mark is made at this exhibition with the subject of tribal marks. Gradually fading with time, tribal marks have resurfaced in his indoor photography shot in Ejigbo. With this collection, he aims at changing the perspective on tribal marks as an element of cultural identity and not a mark of imperfection. Osula’s exploration of this traditional scarification and our concept of beauty is a social critique on our post-colonial identity as Africans. Actually, tribal marks offered visual clues to people’s background or ethnicity in earlier times. But now, tribal mark is hard knock gospel to preach among the millennials albeit its cultural importance.

The 23-year-old graduate of the University of Lagos, Daniel Obasi showcases his photography done between 2016 and 2017 in a series called “Spirit”. Obasi is a self-taught photographer with a portfolio of film projects screened at the Bucharest Fashion Film Festival in Romania. Add to his boasting rights his works shown at the Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture, Washington DC. He had produced a photo essay titled, “The Illegals Project”, where this young Afrocentric photographer returns his audience to African roots. From the robe-belt on his waist to his curiosity with Androgeny and Diahomey tribe, this cerebral Obasi comes through with strong photography that can set online search engines on fire as the knowledge-thirsty dig into history to appreciate the African rich heritage and aesthetics.

An interesting turn came with Kola Oshalusi’s documentary’s depiction of youths in northern Nigeria. It’s not the usual story of victims of terrorism as prevalent in the media. Oshalusi’s lens are focused on young adults, in clusters, in a show of resilience against the backdrop of harsh socio-economic climate. Using monochrome, Oshalusi didn’t omit his chance to make reference to the issues of “otherness’’ such as identity and castigation in his “Race series”.
Ola Ebiti’s works speak volumes about his fascination with the male form and his articulated views on culture. He is a UK-based stylist, writer and fashion photographer with specialty in menswear. In this show, Ebiti gives some dose of Yoruba worldview in “Abu Was a Masquerade”.

Self-portraiture is Kadara Enyeasi’s tool in this show, curated by SMO Contemporary Art and A White Space Creative Agency. In one of his pieces is a model with a crucifix, adorned in traditional skirt pose the question of identity in post-colonial Africa.
As the group walk wound up at the reception, the Founder of A Whitespace Creative Agency and co-curator of GBAM!, Papa Omotayo acknowledged the efforts of these men of shutter speed.

“The works are fluid, referential, charged with self-reflection and steeped in narrative and contradictions of modern contemporary African identity and style,” he said.

For Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the Founder of SMO Contemporary Art and co-curator for the all-male show, this exhibition expands the context of fashion photography far beyond flash-reflecting stilettos, accompanying pop music, and cat walks documentation.

“Gbam! broadens the common perception of fashion photography as an art form and spreads its tentacles wide to provide socio-economic critique as it questions perfection vis-à-vis identity, equality, traditional norms and expectations,” she observed.
In all, the exhibition, sponsored by Louis Guntrum and The Wheatbaker presents 25 photographs with a renewed understanding of perfection from the point of view of the millennials.