Lakin Ogunbanwo is a Nigerian photographer whose work combines elements of fashion photography with classical composition to create images of strange, unfathomable beauty. The faces of Ogunbanwo’s subjects are often concealed by masks or turned away from the camera’s lens, so that their bodies become like strong, symbolic sculptures. In this series entitled ‘Are you ok’, Ogunbanwo explores ideas of tradition and modernity that are often considered to be at odds within African culture and proves that the two need not be mutually exclusive.
This shoot combines elements of traditional Nigerian dress with fetish wear. Was there an element of trepidation in marrying such disparate elements?
A little, but only as far as how the visuals ‘may be received’. Not necessarily in the co-existence of these elements – because they do coexist even if its not acknowledged.
You were also inspired by sexual taboos – do you think that art provides a ‘safe space’ in which we can explore our darker predilections without the shame and marginalisation associated with them in real life?
I believe so. This doesn’t mean the audience engaging with this sort of art necessarily has to like those things, nor does it make it any less legitimate as a subject.
You have explored the significance of traditional dress and its power to convey social standing and personal taste in your previous work. What was the appeal of recontextualising it in this way?
Growing up and living in Nigeria, my culture is a huge influence on what I do and how I see the world. Sex and sexual activities are a huge part of most people’s lives, however in these regions it’s still very hush, hush. I was just trying to combine these elements visually, not necessarily to highlight the hypocrisy of this coexistence, but mostly to celebrate its normality. The idea isn’t for these elements to look jarring together but for the combination to appear ‘everyday’, if you will.
This work will appear in the LagosPhoto 2016 exhibition, which is dedicated to the ritualistic power of repetition in the role of the photographer. Do you feel that photography constitutes a kind of ritual?
I believe it does. Very much so. From thinking up an idea, picking up a camera and shooting and repeating that whole process all over again, beyond that however there is the ritual of different art forms (photography in this case) shaping how we see the world/engage with it essentially through the artists eyes.
These images were created exclusively for King Kong and will be exhibited at the 2016 LagosPhoto Festival in Nigeria.