Meet the Seven Faces Redefining the African Creative Scene

Photographer – Lakin Ogunbanwo for | Fashion Editor – Irene Ojo-Felix
Makeup – Odiri Obrutse

The fashion map has been redrawn to include communities no longer on the fringes. When it comes to Africa, the 54 countries that make it up are connecting in ways deemed unimaginable a few decades ago and showcasing their newfound creative perspectives throughout the digital sphere. Such was the case during the overlapping events Homecoming and Arise Fashion Week held over Easter weekend where models, designers, and creatives alike hailed from the US, Europe, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire and yes, Nigeria, to learn and invest in enriching ideas on their own terms. Shot by photographer Lakin Ogunbanwo, set out to discover 7 of these talents and discover why Lagos is swiftly galvanizing Africans for global recognition.

Dress – Loza Maléombho | Hat – Rich Mnisi

Adesuwa Aighewi
How has traveling in Nigeria and throughout the world influenced your creative work?
It’s almost like smelling coffee when at a perfume shop; Nigeria in itself is so vast in terms of culture that every state and person you meet is so different from anywhere else in the world. It is an entirely different ecosystem. Going back home allows me to see clearly everything in terms of what humans value in the West and how they live vs Nigeria. The West gives me the opportunities to gain accolades and capital while Nigeria gives me the drive to go harder than anyone else because I see exactly what I need to be doing. By traveling all around the world and meeting all sorts of humans from every corner of the globe. I listen and talk to a lot of people and learn from them and it’s like putting a puzzle piece together.

You’ve been active on changing stereotypes of how Africa is perceived, what’s one thing that you wished the World knew about your community?
I’m very active in that field because I believe that changing the perception of Nigeria, and subsequently Africa, is the first step towards a positive change there. If people could see Africa for what it really is, if more Africans told their story, if we had the infrastructure of storytelling, the world would be kinder to it. Right now what’s been happening for eons is foreigners telling an askew version of what’s going on at home. Our books aren’t written by us, nor our news or any publications. We have always operated on a different wave and that’s why everyone thinks it’s wrong. We’ve been on Microsoft while everyone’s on Apple – different operating systems. It is time for us to adapt to the new world or we will continue to get left behind and taken advantage of.

How has the Nigerian creative community grown since you started?
Wow, don’t even get me started on what’s going on there! It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. What Grace [Ladoja] is doing there is nothing short of magic. People don’t realize how hard it is to become friends in harsh environments; to get other people together who are so used to surviving individually. So for the youth to say “fuck that let’s mobilize” and make the change ourselves, pulling all our resources together and using the Internet to spread our messages. It’s phenomenal.

“I believe that changing the perception of Nigeria, and subsequently Africa, is the first step towards a positive change there. If people could see Africa for what it really is, if more Africans told their story, if we had the infrastructure of storytelling, the world would be kinder to it.”

Who do you look up to in the model or fashion industry?
That’s hard to say because fashion is a space for storytelling and mostly fantasy but actions say it all. I look up to friends at Nike who push for concepts that usually Nike wouldn’t be into. Or at i-D Magazine – Carlos Nazario who is adamant in telling fashion stories that aren’t the norm or Ib [Kamara] in the UK who’s pushing the boundaries with styling amazing, Afrocentric fashionable images. Or the models who still push daily for what’s right and their beliefs even though it’s not necessarily the commercial, sellable idea. Strong people. Outliers are who I look up to because this shit is hard.

Suit – Tokyo James

Victor Ndigwe
Where did you first get discovered and where are you from in Nigeria?
I’m from Adazi-Nnukwu, Anambra State. It’s on the east side of Nigeria but I grew up in Lagos. I wasn’t discovered per se but started modeling after I participated in Elite Model Look Nigeria in 2014. My sister and I had a conversation about it two years prior and I’m still grateful for the platform.

How has living in Nigeria and traveling the world influenced your creative work?
The essence of my creativity stems from being a full Nigerian boy. I’m inspired every day because of this but traveling has really opened my mind and I usually don’t realize until I’m in my creative process and I’m finding hidden patterns, trying to link unrelated things.

Tell me more about your budding music career – how long have you been making music and what made you want to take the leap and release a single last year?
I’ve been making music since 2012. It’s been challenging for me because I had school, was studying mathematics and then modeling came but since last year I’ve been writing and recording a lot. I’ve kind of found a balance. Last year I put out a song and a video because I wanted people to take my music seriously and also to know beneath the face there’s something more. I got great reviews and people are looking forward to what’s next so I guess it was a good move.

How has the Nigerian creative community grown since you started?
I think the growth has been amazing and recently it’s really caught a lot of attention but Nigeria has always been cool – the creativity has always been there and I’m glad the world is realizing it but it’s left to us to make something out of it – this time for ourselves!

Dress – David Tlale | Belt – Loza Maléombho | Earrings – EDAS

Nyarach Abouch Ayuel
Where did you first get discovered and where is your family from in South Sudan?
I got scouted on Instagram by my mother agent Isis Model Management and then I flew from Kenya to South Africa to first build my portfolio. Making it to Europe and the US wasn’t easy, getting visas was hectic. Since we couldn’t we get my Schengen visa last year and we managed to get the US visa that’s why I first had to go to New York for fashion week. My family is from the Nilotic group, Dinka and we live in Kenya.

Do you remember your first big show? How was the experience backstage?
Yes, Marc Jacobs. It was so amazing and it was really hectic. I didn’t want to do the show because I didn’t want my hair cut. I actually cried but I got over it. My agent talked to me and since it was my first big show I couldn’t resist anyway. After all, it all grows back!

How has traveling throughout the world influenced your career and what’s one thing you wished people knew more about where you’re from?
By traveling, I have met a lot of different people and learned new cultures each time which I never experienced before. I honestly need the world to learn more about South Sudan and to see our beauty.

Who do you look up to in the model or fashion industry?
The person that inspires me the most is Alek Wek. I grew up watching her and she is the reason why I’m in the industry today. I love her and when I met her I felt like I made it in life!

Leather Vest – Shem Paronelli | Scarf – Post Imperial

Baingor Joiner
When did you first establish yourself as a creative and how do you go about making meaningful work?
I wouldn’t say I ever sought out to establish myself as a creative but I’ve been brought up in the era of Tumblr kids that developed visual tastes, without the anxiety of public stats. I found out about this skate brand in Lagos called WafflesNCream from my dude KC. I figured I’d pitch an article [about WafflesNCream] for a local magazine & Jomi [Marcus-Bello, its founder] obliged. The article got picked up years later by a local magazine dedicated to being the cultural voice of the African millennial called The Native Magazine.

How has living in Nigeria and traveling the continent influenced your work?
I’m more open to giving the underdog a shot in a lot of ways. I’ve become more aware of the cultural nuances in style and fashion that are a blend of the purely traditional (like a kaftan) and European influences. That’s what guys like Mobolaji [Dawodu] are championing. It’s kind of like speaking a different language. Alara really opened my mind up to the values of luxury in African fashion – as I walked up those stairs, I’ll say I found a library of the textbook I’d been looking for. Building on the heritage and references in African fashion.

What is something you wished people understood about creativity in Nigeria?
Creativity in Nigeria is about making things work, plans are dynamic and you have to readily adapt, quickly – things change. On some level, it also seems that Nigerians are very connected to one another. This also means that creative deals are kind of like little marriages in Nigeria that I’ve never encountered anywhere else. When you need to make things happen it’s really about how many hands you can get in on deck and you hope for the best but with this labor of love. My good friend Ibra [Ake] once said “it’s all about getting reps in “, I.e. intentionally training this creative muscle. The challenging part is showing up, remember you’re already on a podium with your last personal best, and trusting the process.

What do you want to realize next? What’s a dream job for you?
Next, I’d love to catalog African cities for their unbeatable sense of style and show different global influences on African style. The ways European and African dress fuse with ease is different, even wacky at times. It would be the African equivalent of Robert Frank’s “The Americans”. Also, I’ve encountered Kenneth Ize in 2015 & I still can’t find a finer luxury African fashion house. The dream job would be to design or build the infrastructure to support these cultural exports that represent Afrofuturism to me from all corners of Africa to the world.

A short term goal for me would be to spend 3 months of summer in Japan on an artistic residency that influences my work to infuse African and Japanese references, culture, and values. I think guys like Nigo and Yohji have found ways to creatively draw inspiration from their culture in a way that is respected globally. It would be phenomenal to gain a deeper understanding of this ethos as an African creative. The Summer Olympics are in 2020 as well and skateboarding will be a part of the official program for the first time, so I’d love to cover those events officially or for my personal portfolio.

Cape – Nkwo | Shirt (worn underneath) – Tzar Studios | Hat – Daniel’s Own

Daniel Obasi
When did you first pick up photography and styling? Did you set out always wanting to do both?
I first started off as a fashion intern and styling assistant back in 2014. I remember styling my first campaign while in university – it wasn’t anything big, but was for a modeling training workshop. From then on, I began to collaborate with photographers. It was really exciting just being able to experiment with clothes and ideas and structure. My photography journey began around 2016, I didn’t exactly want to be a photographer then because I wasn’t sure I had the skills for it, but I was doing a school research program in a city called Badagry and was stuck there for 6 months. Everything was really beautiful and it had so much history that until today it still influences my work. I think I just went back to Lagos one Saturday and returned to Badagry with a camera. I shot my first works, “ Minstrel” and “ A spirit” there. Also, because over time I developed a way of seeing things that I wasn’t sure anyone else could capture or express.

How has living in Nigeria and traveling the continent influenced your work?
It’s more like the blueprint. I haven’t been around the world much but Nigeria is my home and the experiences and stories and challenges I face here are what influences my work. Sometimes as a way of criticizing what’s the current norm or even highlighting cultural nuances but from a more metaphorical and dreamlike place.

What is your personal relationship with fashion and beauty? How has it helped you represent yourself to the World?
I wasn’t always very confident growing up, also because I had self-esteem issues as a child and I spent most of my time being a book worm. I read so much literature that I think that it effortlessly comes out in my work. I was raised by my mother and her sister who were like my first introduction to fashion. My mother was one of the first women I ever saw wear trousers – this was in the early 2000s because I remember we had just moved back to the east Anambra State temporarily and she wore a pantsuit to church and the sermon that day was why women should not wear what pertains to a man. We never went back to that church. (laughs) That experience taught me how fashion can easily provoke the status quo, and the sense of pride and awareness that it brings is what helps you stand out in the world.

What do you look for in model muses?
I’m very much attracted to models who have a story, with the way they move or look at you. Even when they don’t know what they’re doing you can see their confidence. Models who aren’t afraid to try new things, adventurous and very aware of who they are as an individual.

What is the most challenging thing about the creative process?
For me it’s the little things like meeting deadlines, making up your mind about things on the go. Time! Managing time can be hectic.

Dress – Bridget Awosika

Yagazie Emezi
When did you first pick up photography?
In earnest, four years ago. I had been gifted a small camera right after university, a gesture from a loved one to encourage me to travel and see the world. However, it collected a lot of dust for some time before seeing some proper action. I had an iPhone 4 which got stolen, then a Blackberry passport which I used most of the time to share images of Lagos on social media. I was new to the city, coming from a very small but very mad town in another part of Nigeria. I had actually never been in any major African city before. It was exciting, something ‘new’ was around every corner for me and I wanted to share that with others. Eventually, I simply wanted to do better at representing what I was seeing and with proper intention, came the growth.

How has living in Nigeria and traveling the continent influenced your work?
I’ve spent the majority of my life in Nigeria, my journey with photography started there, but it wasn’t until I left again that I saw my work and myself grow. That’s the thing about travel – no matter what you do, you get to see more life, more living in all its uncountable forms. With photography and journalism, you get to go deeper as well, ask more questions, properly sit with stories. And to experience so many distinctively different cultures across the continent? It has made my work more responsible. There’s a sense of duty here – to not lump people, identities, experiences, emotions all in one under the name of Africa to be churned out for mass consumption. I’m still working to do my best of representing stories as they truly are.

What is your day-to-day process like? Do you have a rigid routine or is it ever changing?
It ebbs and flows. That’s freelancing. Some days are quite dull, coffee shops in Lagos everyday. Then there have been times where hours were spent slowly snaking through mangroves in Papua, weeks out at sea patrolling for illegal fishing vessels in Gabon, wild dog hunts in Zambia, sweaty nights documenting Liberian clubs, luxury fashion shoots in London and Spain, more polluted, humid hours in Lagos traffic, it really goes on. Just two years ago, I didn’t think I could describe my life in such an obnoxious way, but it’s fun to type out because it’s mine and it’s real, and it’s still moving and changing.

That’s the thing about travel, no matter what you do. You get to see more life, more living in all its uncountable forms.

What was your career direction before pursuing photography full-time?
I didn’t have one. Of course, I wanted to do many things which at the time, made sense. I wanted to write, I wanted to produce a television show in Nigeria where women could openly discuss health and sexuality, but as with many, many things I had tried out in the past, I had no experience and the process crashed. I believe all that time, I was simply looking for a way to tell stories. When I came across photography, it was a simple moment of, “Oh, there you are.”

Shirt – Loza Maléombho | Pants – Mai Atafo | Necklace and headpiece – Louis’ Own

Louis Philippe de Gagoue
When did you first pick up photography and styling? Did you set out always wanting to do both?
I started photography and styling 3 years ago. Before I only did styling and creative direction but it was quite difficult to collaborate with other photographers. So after moving from Dubai to Abidjan 3 years ago, I decided to do both because there were no good photographers in Abidjan who shot analog and I had this feeling about only shooting film, really taking my time to create a beautiful image. Making sure that everything looks perfect before capturing what I want. Also, doing both gives me total control of what I want to create and share to the world.

How has living between Paris and Abidjan influenced your work? Did you always plant to shoot editorials throughout the continent or was that just an organic process?
What I really like about spending my time between the two is that both are beautiful, different cities. Paris is the place to be when you want to evolve in the fashion and luxury industry. It is also one of the most difficult cities to work in because there is so much competition and the people can be very closedminded in terms of new things and diversity compared to other big cities like New York and London. Paris is still associated with prestige – I really like everything about this city, the vibes, the Parisian snobbism, the parties, the youth, the history, the museums, the diversity. Abidjan is very inspiring for me in a different way; I grew up there when I was a kid in my hometown, 25 minutes from the beach. Each minute you get inspired by people, the sun, the colors, the prints, the landscapes are so beautiful. Each part of the city looks like a painting.

What is your day-to-day process like? Do you have a rigid routine or is it ever-changing?
I hate routine, each day is totally different. I’m a beast of work even when I’m partying, always looking for inspiration and new things to experience. I really need to party, dance, listen to good music, laugh with friends, get inspired by beautiful people, read my Bible and get strength, meditate. I’m a very curious person so I try to discover and experiment with new things. I really like to talk and learn things from people and history.

You recently captured the behind-the-scenes process of Dior’s Cruise 2020 collection showcased in Morroco – what did you think of luxury brand’s first runway in the continent and how they collaborated with continental artisans?
Collaborating with Dior for their Cruise collection was such an incredible experience. I was really happy to see that Maria Grazia Chuiri chose Uniwax, a factory based in Abidjan, and collaborate with local artisans along with one of the well-known Ivorian designer, Pathé’o, one of Nelson Mandela’s favorite designers. She wanted to learn about African culture, she decided to print the wax directly in Ivory Coast instead of through Vlisco in the Netherlands. Dior and Marrakech have a long relationship since Yves Saint Laurent was working for the House.

Tell us more about Nikkou Magazine – why did you start it and what pushed your desire to have an editorial presence in a digital world?
Nikkou is the first multicultural magazine that brings together fashion, luxury and contemporary art. It’s a magazine with a collector value and an experimental vocation m- I do believe in beautiful magazines with wonderful paper, so it’s more like a collector magazine with amazing pictures and unique design. Made in Africa, this continent is capable of producing an innovative and demanding discourse and in Nikkou the visual codes are disrupted: the classical gives way to the daring through the mixing of genres, lavish prints, and vibrant colors.

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