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marked nadine ibrahim nigeria lagos scarification
Photography Victor Adewale, Courtesy of Naila Media

Immerse yourself in the taboo art of scarification via short film Marked

Nigerian director Nadine Ibrahim delved into the world of the traditional beauty practise to find out its origins and the reason behind it

If you’re not born in Nigeria, the chances are you’re not familiar with scarification, let alone the reason behind why people choose to practise it. But for Nigerian-born director Nadine Ibrahim, the case was exactly the same – despite being surrounded by people close to her who had the modification. 

Growing up, she noticed the marking on her aunt’s face and arms and later on more and more people around her. Piquing her curiosity, Nadine decided to do some research into the tradition and quickly found there was lots of information about how to do it but little information about why. “I found articles and photos but no in-depth explanation,” the director tells us. “So, I thought it was important to document something so important to our culture yet undocumented.”

The results is Marked, a short documentary – premiering today at Lagos’s Aké Festival – that spotlights Nigerians from all over the country who practice scarification. “When I decided to tell this story, I knew it was going to be challenging,” Nadine says. “It took two years from start to finish and it was important for me to include as many tribes as possible to get a well-rounded insight into the subject. We travelled across 20 states and spoke to over 100 people.” 

Naturally, Nadine learned a lot from the large number of interviewees, though unsurprisingly, their answers varied as to why they had the markings. “The three main reasons that kept coming up, were beauty, identity, and spirituality,” she explains. “It was intriguing, because I didn’t know how diverse the marks were and how deep some of the meanings could be.”

While some people might find the taboo practise disturbing or uncomfortable to look at, the beauty aspect is something Nadine wanted to champion. “Beauty to me is feeling comfortable in your own skin and appreciating your imperfections because that is what makes you unique,” she says. 

For Nadine, the aim of the film was not only to investigate the reasons behind the practise, but also raise awareness for those not aware of it in the first place. “I hope people are able to watch this documentary and get a greater understanding of something they know the surface, but not in-depth,” Ibrahim says. “I want them to be in awe of the locations we visited and hopefully want to visit themselves and embrace the beauty of our country. Most importantly, I want this to be a source of knowledge for years to come when people search for the reasons behind scarification.” 

Marked will feature as part of the Aké Festival in Lagos from October 24-27.