“My aim as a photographer is to use my portrayals to re-image the African continent by showcasing the continent in a more positive light, laying more emphasis on the positive. I focus on our African identity in all its diversity and the aesthetics of being African in the 21st century”
Nigerian photographer Jumoke Sanwo knows what she wants to show her audience. As a graduate of English Studies from the Obafemi Awolowo University in her home country Jumoke also knows how to communicate this to the outside, a power that she uses with great success. Her work has been exhibited far and wide, from New York, Brussels and Dubai to Lagos, Sudan, Addis Ababa, Benin, Chad and Ghana. “My work addresses aesthetic concerns as well as concerns on identity, which fosters the discourse on re-imaging the African continent”, she explains. “I will continue to push the envelope with my unique take on the lifestyle of Africans with projects that celebrate the rich cultural diversity within the continent.”
Jumoke wants to address social issues that in her opinion ‘ravage the continent’ with her imagery. Her view on the continent is what sets her apart, she believes, and her images are proof of that. “My portraits are quite intimate in a way that you are able to have a glimpse into the soul of my subjects. I never shoot a subject until that window is open. The feel to my images is that of familiarity. For you the viewer you derive a sense of knowing the subject just by simply looking at the image.” What motivates her is the simple fact that she thinks these stories need to be told by Africans. By doing so she wants to shed more light on her and her fellow Africans lifestyle.
“For too long we’ve been subjected to objectification, almost to a point of spectacle. I feel that in the midst of all that are people living their day by day lives, doing normal things. They’re just surviving and going on; that’s what I want to show through my lens. Africa as a whole is a fascinating place for photographers, but most outsiders just come here to search for pictorials that illustrate the ideas they already have. I therefore focus on sharing stories without an agenda, unbiased. The focus is on my subject, not on me as a photographer. I simply witness the persons’ story and capture it.”
Black & White Project
Though Jumoke started off as a writer, she realized along the lines that words where not sufficient enough to express her artistic flair. Photography turned out to be the perfect tool as an extension to her views. She became a member of The X-perspective, Black Female Photographers Association, American Photography Association and Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography group to share her experiences with others and a broader audience. Like many other photographers in those association she wants to contribute to the discourse to consciously document stories that challenge the existing notions about a subject.
“Last year I came up with an idea called the ‘Black and White Project’, to be presented in two parts. The first was the ‘Retrospective’ project to create an archival image bank. I believe we have a wealth of photographic history in private collections currently. The idea is to create a central body to digitally archive these images. The second part of the project is called the ‘Perspective’ and the idea is to consciously document ongoing occurrences pertaining to our lifestyle in the current day. I am still at the stage of fine-tuning the idea, but hope to be able to carry it out some day.”
In order to give a truthful image of her home country Nigeria she uses her native knowledge of the environment. Interacting with the space in a way that reveals a sensibility and understanding she tries to capture the story from the perspective of an interpreter, simply to share the stories from her subject’s perspective. It’s not always easy to do some in a city like Lagos, she admits.
“It’s very challenging to survive as an artist here with the lack of an enabling environment for anything artistic. We see the future in many ways but how can we generate innovative ideas that can sharpen growth and development, but the government doesn’t understand this and therefore doesn’t support it. There is a rise in the popularity of photography in Nigeria, but more in the commercial aspect. I don’t think we need more magazine type portrayals though, because this doesn’t add real value to the art of photography. Unfortunately the artistic practice is not lucrative enough for investments or support here.”