In his latest series, e wá wo mi (which translates as 'come look at me'), acclaimed Nigerian artist Lakin Ogunbanwo explores the rituals surrounding Nigerian brides and marriage ceremonies.
He uses veiled portraiture to document the complexity of his culture, and counteract the West’s monolithic narratives of Africa and women. The photographs are to go on display at the Niki Cryan Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria this month, along with another series that inspired them.
Ogunbanwo’s interest in expanding the contemporary African visual archive began in 2012 with his acclaimed ongoing project, Are We Good Enough. In this, he documents hats worn as cultural signifiers by various ethnic groups in Nigeria.
In e wá wo mi Ogunbanwo furthers this investigation by representing the traditional ceremonial wear of the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani tribes, amongst others. Rather than objectively archive these as past-traditions, however, he mimics the pageantry of weddings in present Nigeria. He creates elaborate sets of draped fabric as a backdrop for these brides to perform.
"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," explains the gallery. "The expectation of femininity and the role of women are canonised on a wedding day."
The series Are We Good Enough features enigmatic portraits that explore identity. "By purposefully obscuring the individual identity of the sitters, Ogunbanwo draws attention to what defines an individual within a larger cultural collective; who this individual may be and how they want to be perceived," the gallery continues. "He has pared down the communicative aspect of the project to the power of the hat – ‘that witty but vital accessory in fashion’ – to speak of masculine identity."