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18 Oct

Daniel Obasi’s photos highlight the queer communities of Nigeria

Inspired by sex, sci-fi and Afrofuturism, the photographer makes work for the country’s minorities, offering a perspective that permits them to ‘dream and be free’

The previous few years have seen a big shift in what we see, as we widen our gaze beyond Western fashion ideals and sweetness standards. Nigerian-born Daniel Obasi is considered one of those leading the charge, and he has turn out to be renowned for styling, photography, film, and artistic direction for publications like Vogue, Atmos, and Nataal, in addition to music videos for Kali Uchis and Amaarae, and Beyoncé’s Black is King.

Now, his game-changing work is the main target of his digital exhibition for Homecoming Gallery, curated by Azu Nwagbogu, founding father of Lagos Photo Festival. Having Nwagbogu recognise his work, Obasi says, was deeply appreciated. “He was capable of curate the photographs so beautifully,” he muses. “They felt personal and refreshing, even for me because the artist.”

Obasi began visualising his ideas with images in 2016 while studying French on the University of Lagos. “I used to be very intrigued by my personal experiences growing up in Nigeria,” he says. “I desired to explore those ideas visually and truthfully. My first predominant work was called ‘Minstrel’ – a whimsical body of labor around gender fluidity and the great thing about androgynous fashion and folks.”

But growing up, he struggled to seek out inspiration, and his genius was as an alternative sparked by the banality of Nigeria’s “pretty” glossy magazines, which pushed him to start constructing his own worlds and what he desired to see.

“There looked as if it would have been an absence of ‘wrongness’, and loads of the references were very Western, or high fashion-oriented,” he told Nwagbogu during a conversation for the exhibition’s launch. “(The photographs were) super polished and airbrushed, and there I used to be, wanting to explore a side of Nigeria that I just didn’t see represented: a rustic with huge diversity.”

As an alternative of simply taking over one a part of the image-making process, Obasi honed skills across the board, through styling, photography, film, and artistic direction. Admittedly his desire to be on top of things was borne out of the “fear of my voice being swallowed.”

He describes the series Corridors of Power as a serious turning point in becoming the artist he’s today. The photo series examined the impact of societal power structures on sexuality and masculinity, and opened space for queer representation. The series shows young Black men wearing white, flowy fabrics which might be framed with black hoop skirts, holding feathers. “It was very much a game-changer, due to the works that got here afterwards,” Obasi says. “There was quite a bit more intentionality with how I desired to approach societal issues, and Corridors of Power was step one in that direction.”

While his work is deeply rooted within the exploration of identity, it also veers into the fantastical, specifically the influence of Afrofuturism. “Afrofuturism will at all times be the perfect surreal space for me,” Obasi explains. “I’m inspired by the heavy referencing and history that comes with it.”

Growing up, it was sci-fi that pushed him to essentially consider “the boundaries of what’s possible”, naming movies like Star Wars and Star Trek as early inspirations. In 2017, he released his own sci-fi film, a “retro-futuristic fantasy”. Titled An Alien in Town, the film explored the thought of extraterrestrials landing in his home country, Nigeria and “discovering the energy of African fashion”.

When asked in regards to the unexpected influences in his work he simply replies: “sex”, but adds that ultimately his work goals to challenge attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ people. “I make work for minorities in Nigeria – the Queer community to be exact,” he says. “It is important that individuals see this type of representation, especially in such a repressed country. (By) offering this attitude that permits us to dream and be free is, by itself, activism.” 

See Daniel Obasi’s Homecoming Gallery highlight here.

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