Predestination, our fate and ultimate destination, those are some of the subjects that keep going through Nigerian photographer Adeola Olagunju’s mind. “How does our head determine where our feet go?”, she asked herself philosophically while working on one of her most recent series, called “Paths & Patterns”. “The route we chose gets determined by aspects like our tradition, family and society. But it’s our feet that take us everywhere and show the memories of these trips in their colour, wrinkles, scars and spots.” With questions in mind, began to observe and study the feet of people she met and shared experiences with. Amazed to perceive what our bodies communicate without our knowledge, she decided to photograph them.
For Olagunju photography is simply a means to an end; a viable medium of expression that helps her promulgate the essence of her artistic ideas. She doesn’t merely shoot what she sees or registers a certain event, but tries to express what she sees as her own truth. “Art is fluid and I therefore affiliate more with the description of artist than being tagged as photographer. The process before and after shooting an image is just as important as the actual moment I capture it. My content emanates from within when I consciously engage in the process of image creation. I believe this enables me to recognize and acknowledge my image when I see it.” She wants to keep her work open for the audience’s perception, not imposing her own expression or emphasizing on something specific that she expects the people to see.
Take another of Olagunju’s series, for example: “Evolve”. In this she stars herself, using her body and personal experiences to create poetic images. “It’s a highly introspective and experimental project, something very close to me”, she explains. “Just like my other series, “Resurgence”, in which I also use self portraits. It’s a manifesto of photographic performances, showcasing the unacceptability and high level of socio-religious and political decadence in Africa. It’s what I consider the reality of Nigeria and the African continent at large.”
This series reflects her forthrightness and crusade for self-liberation from mental shackles. It focuses on the quest for reawakening the awareness of our sense of identity that – according to Olagunju – is being threatened, while paying attention to the form and signs of possible resistance. “We find ourselves in a world that takes its cue from negative and dark ideas, which spread like a virus, ultimately becoming a strand hold for oppression and slavery. “Resurgence” forms a subtle presentation of still performances that question and provoke thoughts.”
A resident of Lagos, Olagunju – who has a degree in Fine and Applied Arts from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology – is critical of the current state of photography in Nigeria, where she does not see much in the way of development. She thinks it’s even more about commercial success than in the other arts. “I strongly think the art of photography needs more growth and strength in both content and language. The limitation I see is the inability of local photographers to evolve from a certain genre to explore other possibilities.” This, she believes, is what’s necessary break new vistas and improve the quality and diversity of photography in Nigeria.