Nadine Ijewere in Lagos: Fashion's Diasporic Gaze
Nadine Ijewere, a young London-based creative, has been gaining visibility as a fashion and portrait photographer with a uniquely diasporic perspective. Densely layered visual narratives and an insistence on the visibility of non-white and mixed race subjects, have set this work apart from more nondescript editorials. Ijewere exhibited at Unseen Amsterdam Art Fair this past September and New African Photography II, a collaborative group show put on by Red Hooks Lab and Nataal in May. She is also the current resident at Red Hooks Lab where she’s working on a new series showcasing “ethnic cowgirls." Her work has appeared in The British Journal of Photography, The Wall Street Journal and Vogue, among others.
Ijewere’s graduate show at the London College of Fashion in 2014, aptly titled, The Misrepresentation of Representation, used the concept of Orientalism to address the archaic stereotypes and beauty standards asserted in the West, resulting in some challengingly beautiful images.
The questions raised in this work, seem to carry into one of her most recent series, #StellaBy NadineIjewere, a collaboration with Stella McCartney, documenting local youth in Lagos, Nigeria and styled by Ijewere’s contemporary, Ib Kamara. The series, like some other recent advertising campaigns for major fashion labels, particularly Harley Weir’s images of Senegalese wrestlers for designer Grace Wales Bonner, blurs the lines between photographic essay and fashion editorial.
Another notable similarity between these two series, is the predominance of African subjects in major cities such as Lagos and Dakar. In both instances, UK-based creatives, with connection to the Diaspora, Bonner is of Jamaican heritage while Ijewere is of Nigerian and Jamaican roots, use African subjects and culture to represent Western brands and reflect Western aesthetics. Understandably, not everyone is happy about this type of representation. While the local African subject take center stage in these shoots, it is the Diasporic perspective that is ultimately being captured. In the case of Weir’s work, things becomes a bit more controversial, as she is a white British photographer shooting black subjects. While the creative direction of Bonner’s brand is certainly communicated, the means of making those images leaves much to be unpacked.
For Ijewere’s images, perfectly matched by the inventive, gender-nonconforming styling of Kamara, the underlying message continues to be concerned with both creating that visibility that is so severely lacking in fashion photography and at the same time challenging our (West-centric) visual literacy of what constitutes both a fashion subject and an African subject, in front of the lens. Like the concept behind her thesis series, Ijewere continues to challenge the confines of the fashion editorial, through her subjects (all models were cast by the artist, off the streets of Lagos) and the technical prowess of her visual storytelling. But at the end of the day this series was a collaboration to showcase the boldly patterned leggings, bodysuits and checkered heels of the Stella McCartney SS17 line
The artist’s personal series, 9-ja_17, serves as an intriguing juxtaposition to the previously mentioned editorial. Created during the same trip, using local fabrics and various common objects in place of designer garments, this series explores the complex identities of the youthful subjects in Lagos. The images, shot in a similar style of portraiture, seem altogether more nebulous and imaginative. This series reiterates that same question of identity, and perhaps the limits of a so-called diasporic gaze. Ijewere further dissects this diasporic perspective to play with the notion of the exotic and expand it into the realm of fantasy, transforming the streets of Lagos into a backdrop for the fantastic and the surreal.
One gets the sense that 9-ja_17 is an intensely personal project, a reflection on the artist’s hometown and the identities of the people she encountered in her travels; but also on her own perspective of the world as a fashion and portrait photographer, as a person whose work is to illustrate the real and imagined intricacies of her subjects. In 9-ja_17, Ijewere succeeds in creating a negotiated space between her subjects and the lens, leaving room for the stories to grow within the frame while recognizing those untranscribable details.