On 25 May, which was Africa Day, Nigerians gathered at Temple Muse exhibition space on Victoria Island, Lagos, for the photographic exhibition titled “White Ebony”. This exhibition of 20 thought-provoking photographs, presented by SMO Contemporary Art, showed Nigerian social activist photographer Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko exploring the complexity of life that people with albinism face every day. “White Ebony”, which will run at that venue for the next six weeks, seeks to also support the recognition and protection of people with albinism in commemoration of International Albinism Awareness Day, which is coming up on 13 June.
Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, who curated the exhibition, said, “As in her previous exhibitions, which have tackled issues such as the challenges survivors of breast cancer face, and photographing dancers performing in slums to highlight the needs of populations living in shantytowns, Ayeni-Babaeko’s amazing artistry is heightened by her commitment to social change and supporting marginalised communities.”
The exhibition had in attendance members of The Albino Foundation, some of whom modelled for Ayeni-Babaeko. Jake Epelle, the founder and president of the foundation, requested donations that would be used to buy sunscreen and send children to school, among many other needs. “Much more needs to be done to advocate for the recognition and respect of the rights and socio-economic inclusion of people living with albinism. The foundation works with governments and development institutions to improve the health and social wellbeing of people with albinism in Nigeria,” he said.
“Yetunde’s work is a powerful example of art for social change and we are delighted to showcase her work,” said Avinash Wadhwani, CEO of Temple Muse, the luxury design concept store.
Ayeni-Babaeko worked with The Albino Foundation in Lagos and interpreted their realities after having in-depth interviews and discussions with them. She said, “It’s easy to create a striking image of a person with albinism because of how unique they are. But these models were not just put in front of my camera for me to photograph. I was able to really connect with them through long conversations about their daily struggles, sharing with me what their life is like. All this knowledge translated into this new body of work.”
Nigeria has an estimated 2 million people living with albinism. According to the foundation, albinism is a taboo in some communities in Nigeria, who shun such people. Stigma and a plethora of myths, which differ from culture to culture, impact negatively on the lives of people with albinism.
Ayeni-Babeko’s final word on the matter is: “My work is not there to make you feel good; its purpose is to trigger you to think and expand your knowledge.” The White Ebony exhibition is on until 19 June.