Creatively speaking, Nigeria is having a real moment. Enthralled by the energy of Lagos, photographer Jan Hoek worked with locals on a six-week workshop to see how fashion and photography could tell new sorts of stories. Ayodeji Rotinwa watched it play out...
Photographs by Shotunde Ifebusola.
When Dutch photographer Jan Hoek first went to Nigeria, he was overwhelmed. In a good way.
“I thought it was extremely vibrant,” he says. “The quality of photographers and fashion designers I met! People try to do things differently here. I also saw that quite a few things are already going on in terms of international connections with the art and fashion scene, but not as much as I think it deserves.”
The international connections are indeed happening. In the last five years, Lagos Fashion Week has partnered with Selfridges twice, bringing Nigerian designs to the English market. Goethe Institut, the German cultural institute, regularly facilitates exchanges where artists from Nigeria swap places with German counterparts and show their work in Europe.
Global media platforms are increasingly looking to photographers working on the ground, such as Yagazie Emezi, Stephen Tayo, Tom Saater and Andrew Esiebo, to tell the country’s stories in a more nuanced, context-rich manner.
Fashion and photography have the power to counter negative, long-running stereotypes that bedevil Nigeria and write an alternative story. To say to the viewer – look, we may be governance poor, which has led us to become the poverty capital of the world. But we are genius rich, creating artistry the world can be inspired by.
Sent to Nigeria for a New York Times commission on Lagos’ boundary-breaking fashionistas, Jan hosted a six-week workshop at local creative hub 16/16. The idea was to pair up designers and photographers to use fashion as a social storytelling device. He’d help them create new narratives about Nigeria and its particular creative energy in this moment.
The collaboration at the heart of the project was in itself new. In creative spaces in Lagos (and to a certain degree across Nigeria) collaboration is not the norm. Instead, there is a strong, entrepreneurial, do it yourself, do it alone culture.
While there have been a number of powerful collaborations recently, it doesn’t happen often enough. Jan felt this process of collaboration – bringing together designers and photographers with different backgrounds and aesthetics – was a winning formula.
“When you come together in a group, you challenge each other, question each other, work from outside your bubble. It leads people to go off the beaten track and get a new energy, different to when they are working alone in their studios.”
That said, the collaboration came with challenges too – navigating tensions in deciding what character told the best story, watching the limits between documenting and exoticizing, and dealing with different cultural contexts and perspectives to create cohesive work.
Jan found the whole thing super-energizing, but he was also aware of the power dynamics in play. Was he, a white European, the right person to run this workshop? In the end, he and the attendees all felt enriched by the experience.
“Maybe I was the initiator but everyone was a teacher of everyone. Everyone was learning, including me.”
Seyi Sanusi and Aàdesokan
Streetwear designer Seyi Sanusi worked with artist and photographer Aàdesokan. For their project, they decided to shoot butchers, an often invisible yet very important part of food culture in Lagos, a huge meat-eating city.