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Jide Alakija: “Nigerians are a very celebratory people who love vibrancy and beautiful noise.”

If you are on Facebook and Twitter, then you are no stranger to the work of Jide Alakija, who in my opinion is photographer extraordinaire. Whenever I need to escape and find a place to dream, I go to his website. Alakija documents marriage ceremonies and other events but don’t call him a wedding photographer. His images tell a story and that makes him a storyteller. It is rare to find a photographer who weaves a narrative that transcends cultures, race and breaks the language barrier the way he does. In my opinion, you don’t have to be Nigerian or African to get the story that his pictures tell. However, commercial photography is not all Mr Alakija does. His black and white portfolio is a favourite of mine because it fuses art and passion. In recent weeks, he has been busy with his first solo exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos. Aptly titled Owambe, Aso-Ebi and the Politics of Dress, it explores the visual aesthetic and political proprieties of a ‘particular thread’ within Nigeria’s diverse cultures. In this instance, the Yoruba culture and its ‘larger-than-life’ wedding celebrations. So, what does Mr Alakija think of his fellow country men and women, and their style of celebration?

Belinda: What attracted you to photography?

Jide Alakija: When I completed my first degree in Mechanical Engineering I was asked to carry on further study in a post graduate research degree in Biomechanical Engineering. During the course I started photography as a side hobby. My PhD colleagues bought cameras of their own and encouraged me to join in with them as they noticed that I had a keen appreciation for photographs especially those taken by many great photographers of our day and in the past (eg. Sebastao Salgado, Henri Cartier –Bresson).

Belinda: Is this your first exhibition?

Jide Alakija: This is my first SOLO exhibition. Up until now I have participated in group shows.

Belinda: Elaborate on the concept behind the exhibition?

Jide Alakija: The exhibition mainly focuses on the issues and aspects of dresses worn in Nigerian “Owambe” parties. I have on display images from the various weddings I have covered from my commercial portfolio of the bride, groom, their families and their guests at these events. The idea is to start the discussion around the politics behind the whole idea of wearing this patterned attire we call Aso Ebi.

Belinda: What do the portraits which form part of this exhibition mean to you and what’s the story/stories about Nigerian culture, the way they celebrate weddings that you want these portraits to tell?

Jide Alakija: The portraits represent the richness in the culture of the people in Nigeria. I have never ever seen anything like it in any other part of the world. The consistency of the vibrant colours exhibited at the weddings couple with their choice of Aso Ebi is contrary to what is usually termed “a highly disorganised” environment. It is quite fascinating.

Belinda: Your work means you travel a lot. How does photography and the life of an adventurer shape the images and stories that you tell with your lens?

Jide Alakija: The world is littered with places that have interesting stories. These stories have been influenced by both the communities and the environment over the years. I’m interested in images that are dramatic and show the vast variation exhibited by our world.

A bride being escorted by friends and family

Belinda: What lessons or new insights have you gained about life in Nigeria, its people, its cultures and traditions have you gained based on the work you do especially, weddings which is a big deal on that side of at he Atlantic?

Jide Alakija: On the up, Nigerians are a very celebratory people who love vibrancy and beautiful noise. They love expression in almost every form available. They provide a very good canvas to make dramatic images. Conversely they do not do compromise very well. Therefore there is a lot of stress and strife between and within communities. It’s important to understand this fact when dealing with Nigerians.

Belinda: What points of discourse or points of dialogue do you want the portraits in this exhibition to evoke in those who come to see it?

Jide Alakija: Aso Ebi is a very strong symbol of Nigeria and now West African culture. It has been used to demonstrate togetherness and a feeling of belonging. This is exhibited in the Aso Ebi worn not only in parties but also at protest marches demonstrations. It’s also worth noting that Aso Ebi can also induce political pressures on those who feel they have to purchase it as part of their support for that togetherness. Sometimes the Aso Ebi can be worth a lot more than they can afford.

Belinda: What are your expectations as regards this exhibition?

Jide Alakija: I hope that the exhibition will get people to think differently about wedding photography and accept it a genuine art form.

Belinda: what has the response to the exhibition been like so far?

Jide Alakija: So far it has been amazing, the young and old generation have shown interest and this is not usual in Nigeria. Most exhibitions have been attended by peoples of one generation only.


Owambe, Aso-Ebi and the Politics of Dress is at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, until 3 December.

For more information go to: Jide Alakija









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