13 October 2016

Non-Conformity and New Masculinity In Images by Clement Ogoh and Daniel Obasi

Freedom found in independent fashion photography from Nigeria’s new wave.

[L]ike all good contemporary collaborations, Daniel Obasi and Clement Ogoh had been stalking each other on Instagram before ever meeting in person. Daniel says, “[Clement] had this soft yet textured way of making images that spoke to me personally. He was attracted to my story telling, use of interesting backgrounds and the quirky way I saw things visually.”

Their mutual fandom made way for a partnership in an ambitious city, “There is definitely a strong sense of competition here in Lagos: it’s almost toxic. Everyone is really interested in making money and being relevant. The competition helps to push us as artists out of our comfort zone but we still believe in collaboration. Nothing compares to the magic that’s possible when the best heads come together as a team. Our best works come through a unified and collaborative understanding of what we want to achieve.”

Beyond being beautiful to look at, Daniel and Clement’s images provide an alternative consideration for how African masculinity is defined. Challenging gender norms, male models pose in suits paired with bold, golden drop earrings: sunshine falls on sculpted stomach muscles visible under a cropped top.

Whether working independently or together, their fashion stories are often steeped in concept. Their latest as a team is titled ‘Page Boy’ and along with the images, Daniel writes, “If I stayed too long in 1975, maybe I would forget too soon what the Carnation Revolution felt like…opening doors and serving rich white guests as they spilled secrets about a war yet to come. Playing the dutiful role of a lobby boy across these old vintage landmarks…Come quick boy! More sugar please!”

Here they answer questions about their unique approach and freedom above all:

Your images play with ideas of masculinity: is this intentional?

Yes it is, the idea of masculinity was what brought us together. Especially for me (Daniel), it’s a heavy context in my work. We are always trying to engage the conversation on masculinity on different levels, especially in Africa, approaching it from a soft, flattering and exciting point of view. We understand that it’s such a niche and fragile subject matter, but what it represents for us is a future where people are comfortable with being who they are irrespective of gender.

What are some of the other themes you explore in your work together?

Well, we can’t really say because sometimes all we do is have a talk and ideas start popping in. We love playing with our environment, but over time we have developed an aesthetic that speaks within these themes: masculinity (androgyny), fantasy, culture, sex, youth, freedom, innocence and society. It’s still an ongoing collaborative relationship for us and we are open to exploring further subject matters.

What do you want your images to say? 

For us we want our work to speak of freedom and non-conformity, not just as a random inspirational post but like a message out of the fight against apartheid, like the walk to Selma and like the fight against racism. We want our works to inspire action not just for today but as a reference point for generations to come. No one will tell our stories better than we can, neither will anyone change the stereotypes of African imagery unless we decide to tell the world what Africa is for us. Freedom to own your life, ideas, freedom to dream and create your own voice, regardless of popular opinion.

Do you find your aesthetic to be independent from the mainstream in Nigeria?

Honestly, yes. Lagos is a beautiful city swelling with amazing minds but like we said earlier non-conformity and freedom are strong elements in our works. So the decision to stand out from the multitude is a difficult but necessary one towards realising our goals.

Does that make things difficult?

Yes, to a large extent. It means less recognition within your community, being regarded as too artistic (lol), having to explain why we do what we do to almost everyone who’s interested in our work. But then nothing really is impossible, because gradually everyone is realising that this new wave, this new point of view on very fragile matters is here to stay and today inspires a huge part of the urban youth in Lagos.

Is there something you could say defines creativity in Lagos? 

In Lagos for us it’s mostly the personal experiences, we believe the streets are the best mood boards. The energy that flows through Lagos defines the extent of creativity in Lagos. It’s such a diverse place with people and personalities from all around the world. We found our voices within these streets. Lagos challenges you to bring out your very best, it’s almost vicious and a bit terrifying but that’s what makes it exciting and sets it apart from anywhere else. Here the streets make you and help you find your voice.

Gallery

Follow Clement Ogoh and Daniel Obasi on Instagram.

All photographs shot by Clement Ogoh and styled by Daniel Obasi.

This article is part of a guest column for Hunger TV created by Casimir, an online publication rooted in Africa, igniting adventure, and looking to the future. Follow Casimir on Instagram and Twitter for more.