The solo exhibition e wá wo mi (*come look at me), presenting a new photographic series by Nigerian artist Lakin Ogunbanwo, is opening tomorrow at gallery Whatiftheworld in Cape Town. It is on view until June 8th.
The culture surrounding Nigerian brides and marriage ceremonies stands central in this latest series by Ogunbanwo. He wants to show the complexity of the Nigerian culture and counteract the West’s depiction of Africa and its women. The veiled ladies are truly stunning. One can get lost for hours in the colors, the styling (by Daniel Obasi) and the story behind each one of them
Beyond the ‘white wedding’
The brides are styled similarly to the goddesses, queens and courtesans in renaissance paintings. They are celebrated women. Ogunbanwo uses the soft lighting and opulence of these scenes as an opportunity to comment on the absence of ‘blackness’ in these archives.
Ogunbanwo expands beyond the “white wedding” by documenting a Nigerian alternative, and in doing so, believes that there is more than one way to be married, be a woman, and be African.
The splendor of weddings
The women in the photographs represent different ethnic groups in Nigeria. They wear traditional ceremonial clothes of, amongst others, the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani tribes. Rather than objectively archive these as past-traditions, however, he mimics the splendor of weddings in present Nigeria. He creates elaborate sets of draped fabric as a backdrop for these brides to perform.
Ogunbanwo explains what he means by ‘perform’: “From how she dresses, to how she carries herself, to what she is told. She will be fertile, she should be submissive and supportive: These are the things she hears on that day. I’ve found weddings to be very performative, and most of the performance generally rests on the bride.”
The performances these brides carry out are ones of love, familial and cultural pride, feminine strength, and a heterogenous African identity, but they are also the burdens of being wives, mothers and daughters-in-law. The expectation of femininity, and the role of women, are canonised on the wedding day.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1987 Lakin Ogunbanwo studied Law at Babcock University, Nigeria and Buckingham University, England before beginning work as a fashion photographer in 2012.
Working at the confluence of fashion photography and classical portraiture, Ogunbanwo creates enigmatic portraits. His subjects exist defiantly in the frame often masked by shadow, drapery and foliage. His use of vibrant flat colour and bold compositions form a more minimalist homage to the african studio photography popular in the 1960s and 70’s.
Did you know Lakin Ogunbanwo? What do you think about his work?