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Corridors of Power XVIIIPhotography by Daniel Obasi. Courtesy of Homecoming Gallery

Daniel Obasi’s photos spotlight the queer communities of Nigeria

Inspired by sex, sci-fi and Afrofuturism, the photographer makes work for the country’s minorities, offering a perspective that allows them to ‘dream and be free’

The last few years have seen a significant shift in what we see, as we widen our gaze beyond Western fashion ideals and beauty standards. Nigerian-born Daniel Obasi is one of those leading the charge, and he has become renowned for styling, photography, film, and creative direction for publications like Vogue, Atmos, and Nataal, as well as music videos for Kali Uchis and Amaarae, and Beyoncé’s Black is King.

Now, his game-changing work is the focus of his digital exhibition for Homecoming Gallery, curated by Azu Nwagbogu, founder of Lagos Photo Festival. Having Nwagbogu recognise his work, Obasi says, was deeply appreciated. “He was able to curate the images so beautifully,” he muses. “They felt personal and refreshing, even for me as the artist.”

Obasi began visualising his ideas with images in 2016 while studying French at the University of Lagos. “I was very intrigued by my personal experiences growing up in Nigeria,” he says. “I wanted to explore those ideas visually and honestly. My first main work was called ‘Minstrel’ – a whimsical body of work around gender fluidity and the beauty of androgynous fashion and people.”

But growing up, he struggled to find inspiration, and his genius was instead sparked by the banality of Nigeria’s “pretty” glossy magazines, which pushed him to begin constructing his own worlds and what he wanted to see.

“There seemed to have been an absence of ‘wrongness’, and a lot of the references were very Western, or high fashion-oriented,” he told Nwagbogu during a conversation for the exhibition’s launch. “(The images were) super polished and airbrushed, and there I was, wanting to explore a side of Nigeria that I just didn’t see represented: a country with huge diversity.”

Instead of simply taking up one part of the image-making process, Obasi honed skills across the board, through styling, photography, film, and creative direction. Admittedly his desire to be in control was borne out of the “fear of my voice being swallowed.”

He describes the series Corridors of Power as a major turning point in becoming the artist he is today. The photo series examined the impact of societal power structures on sexuality and masculinity, and opened space for queer representation. The series shows young Black men dressed in white, flowy fabrics that are framed with black hoop skirts, holding feathers. “It was very much a game-changer, because of the works that came afterwards,” Obasi says. “There was a lot more intentionality with how I wanted to approach societal issues, and Corridors of Power was the first step in that direction.”

While his work is deeply rooted in the exploration of identity, it also veers into the fantastical, specifically the influence of Afrofuturism. “Afrofuturism will always be the ideal surreal space for me,” Obasi explains. “I’m inspired by the heavy referencing and history that comes with it.”

Growing up, it was sci-fi that pushed him to really consider “the boundaries of what’s possible”, naming films like Star Wars and Star Trek as early inspirations. In 2017, he released his own sci-fi film, a “retro-futuristic fantasy”. Titled An Alien in Town, the film explored the idea of extraterrestrials landing in his home country, Nigeria and “discovering the energy of African fashion”.

When asked about the unexpected influences in his work he simply replies: “sex”, but adds that ultimately his work aims to challenge attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ people. “I make work for minorities in Nigeria – the Queer community to be exact,” he says. “It's important that people see this form of representation, especially in such a repressed country. (By) offering this perspective that allows us to dream and be free is, on its own, activism.” 

See Daniel Obasi’s Homecoming Gallery spotlight here.