LagosPhoto: the Nigerian celebration challenging the world’s Afro-pessimism

Event provides a platform for young photographers working to change the view of Africa as a continent of the desperate

Since the first colonisers landed on the continent, photography has been complicit in creating many of the modern myths about Africa.

But as an increasing number of young artists get behind the lens to tell their own narratives, the view of the 54 countries is changing.

In Lagos, Nigeria, a hotbed of art, music and manner, the coming week marks the start of LagosPhoto, one of the continents largest annual photography festivals.

Described as month-long gala challenging prevalent images of Afro-pessimism, the photographers included in exhibition and events across the city elude the global medias focus on Africa as a continent of the desperate.

Launched in 2010, participants say the celebration helps showcase the quality of new work emerging from the continent, while allowing artists to satisfy and support each other.

Fati Abubakar, a photographer working in northern Nigeria, said: You gratify people from all over the world who teach you a lot about cultures, their experience as photographers,[ their] challenges, she says. It is very necessary for us to not only to support[ each other] but to critically assess each other so we can be better.

Ishola Akpo, from Benin, concurs: Sessions such as these are essential […] they actually help to nourish our run and develop new perspectives.

Abubakar and Akpo are among 10 promising young African photographers indicating at LagosPhoto, working to change the way the next generation sees Africa.

Fati Abubakar, Nigeria

Fati Abubakar is presenting a series called The Face. Photo: Fati Abubakar

Abubakar finds narratives of beauty and resistance in the most unexpected places. She has taken her camera to some of Nigerias most dangerous regions, including Maiduguri, in the northern Borno State, where she grew up, which is now better known as the birthplace of Boko Haram.

At Lagos Photo, Abubakar is presenting The Face, a series of portraits from remote, rural locatings in Nigeria, where despite poor living conditions, people still find a sense of integrity and beauty, prospering in the midst of adversity.

Ishola Akpo, Benin

Akpo presents objects given as part of his own grandmothers dowry. Photograph: Ishola Akpo

Working in Benin, the photographer and multimedia artist Akpo focuses on the subject of bridal dowries in the Yoruba and Nago communities.

The symbolism of the dowry, originally one of allegiance seen as a style of joining households, tribes and ethnicities is now often merely a fiscal exchange, and in his series LEssentiel est Invisible pour les Yeux, Akpo presents objects given as part of his own grandmothers dowry including pearls, mirror and bottles of gin.

Nico Krijno, South Africa

Krijno refers to his work as mess esthetics. Photograph: Nico Krijno

Nico Krijno blends photography, performance and statue. His abstract compositions induced in his studio in Cape Town, which he refers to as mess aesthetics, are created using everyday items such as Play-Doh, plastic laundry baskets, fabric curtains, disposed metal and timber.

Siwa Mgoboza, South Africa

From the series The Department of Afro-correctional Services. Photograph: Siwa Mgoboza

Though Siwa Mgoboza, 23, graduated only last year, he has already had several solo exhibitions in South Africa, with many runs now held in public and private collections. Colourful and carnivalesque, the brightly patterned, lavishly layered Ishweshwe cloths that feature in his photo come from the artists Hlubi heritage.

Lakin Ogunbanwo, Nigeria

Ogunbanwo started taking photograph while examining statute. Photograph: Alakija Studios

Mixing the high-gloss luxury of fashion photography and the refined approach of classical portraiture, Lakin Ogunbanwos stripped-back portraits blur the line between ad and art. Born and based in Lagos, the 29 -year-old developed as a lawyer but started taking photo while he was still studying.

The career change paid off, and his work is now part of the new ad and fashion industry prospering in Nigeria. Internationally, he has featured in Harpers Bazaar, GQ and Dazed& Confused publications among others. In 2015, he was named as one of the British Journal of Photographys top 25 photographers.

Tsoku Maela, South Africa

From Maelas series on mental health issues, Abstract Peaces. Photo: Tsoku Maela

Based in Cape Town, the photographer and film-maker Tsoku Maela turned to photography as a route of dealing with depression and nervousnes. His series of self-portraits about mental illness, Abstract Peaces, addressed a topic treated as taboo in South Africa.

In Lagos, the artist is presenting runs from his series Broken Things, which he says features two characters who learn to love themselves, despite their flaws. For Maela, the greatest sort of adoption is self-acceptance. But its not out there, somewhere, waiting to be found. Its right here where you stand, and wherever you will go, as it always begins and ends with us.

Kudzanai Chiurai, Zimbabwe

From Genesis, based on research into the men who travelled with David Livingstone. Photo: Kudzanai Chiurai

Born in Zimbabwe only a year after the end of the white-minority rule of Rhodesia, Chiurai has often focused his lens on racial segregation. At LagosPhoto he presents a new series, Genesis, based on his research into the men who travelled with the missionary David Livingstone to central Africa in the 19 th century. It focuses in particular on stone relief that were made to mark Livingstones various expeditions.

Eric Gyamfi, Ghana

Gyamfi re-enacts memories from his childhood in his self-portraits. Photo: Eric Gyamfi

Gyamfis photographs shed light on social tensions around gender and sexuality in Ghana. Interested in people who have suffered exclusion or been labelled as minorities in their communities in the past and present, Gyamfis work began with self-portraits in which he re-enacted memories from his own childhood as a style to examine his sex identity and posture in relation to the myth of masculinity.

For his series Witches of Gambaga , Gyamfi visited a witches camp in northern Ghana where 130 females aged between 17 and 90 who have been is guilty of witchcraft live. They can only be freed if a family member pays a ransom of one sheep and three hens to the camps chief.

These females, transgressed as they were from their individual traumatic experiences, pressed on daily with such resilience and beauty, in the face of all the devastation that engulfed them inside-out. It was this beauty and strength I wanted to paint back to them, Gyamfi says.

Lonard Pongo, Belgium/ DRC

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