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Nadine Ijewere’s 9-ja_17
Photography Nadine Ijewere

Photos of young Nigerians dressed beautifully and boldly

Nadine Ijewere’s photography series celebrates a new generation breaking the style rules set by their elders

Nadine Ijewere is becoming well known for her exploration of representation, and the intersections between identity, gender, and sexuality. Working between fashion editorial and more personal projects, in April, Ijewere visited her grandmother’s hometown in Lagos, Nigeria to shoot a contemporary portrait series. Titled 9-ja_17, the images focus on the relationship between youth and notions of gender and identity, “blurring the lines of clothing, poses, and location”. “I wanted to look at identity, and how men and women in Nigeria have quite distinct roles and ways of dressing, due to it being a conservative country,” explained Ijewere, “The younger generation isn't like that. They are blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity.”

Images from this series were exhibited as part of the Unseen Photo Fair (which took place in Amsterdam from 22-24 September) in the Red Hook Labs booth. This is the first time they have been exhibited in Europe. They were first shown at Red Hook in April, as part of the group exhibition New African Photography II, which featured the work of six established and emerging photographers from Africa and its diaspora. Another image, Art of Renaissance (2017), was also on show at Unseen - which was chosen for the ‘One’s to Watch’ cover of the prestigious British Journal of Photography earlier this year.

“I wanted to look at identity, and how men and women in Nigeria have quite distinct roles and ways of dressing, due to it being a conservative country. The younger generation isn't like that. They are blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity” – Nadine Ijewere

Ijewere collaborated with the stylist Ibrahim Kamara on the project. Kamara, too, is known for his subversion of stereotypes and desire to eschew the conventions of what masculinity or menswear should look like. Bold items of clothing, such as leather jackets or corsets, were combined with fabrics sourced locally, including unconventional materials like swathes of netting, plastic bags, and black and yellow warning tape. This conceptual approach to style and identity, blurring the lines between sartorial expectations of gender, was mirrored by Ijewere’s art direction. “With an image like this (“the Olasunkanmi Bumblebee Portrait”), I wanted there to be a sense of masculinity and femininity. The poses are masculine, but the way that he is dressed is very feminine. I wanted to showcase both,” she explained. “Or, with the portrait with the biker jacket, the setting was very industrial, but the hands on hips pose was more feminine. The low angle also gives a sense of power.”

The portraits were shot on location around the site of Ijewere’s grandmother’s house and all the models were street-cast. “The people I photographed were excited to participate, they wanted to depict themselves and how they express themselves through the way they dress,” she explained. “My grandmother’s next door neighbours were really cool and actually helped us cast and connect with people.” That said, “the art world in Lagos is very liberal, but outside of that context, it's a different feeling. When we shot these photographers, the local Nigerians didn't particularly like what we were doing. They have a very distinct mindset.” However, it was particularly amazing for Ijewere to see her models overcome this and represent their authentic selves; “they were confident - the project gave them a real chance to express who they are.” The portraits are assured and statuesque, casting the next generation in an alternative and creative new light.

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