Born in Lagos, photographer and artist Abraham Oghobase still lives in the Nigerian metropolis. His work has been exhibited in his home country, the UK, France, Finland and has traveled elsewhere as part of the Bamako Photography Encounters Exhibition. Asked about his own “favorite photographs”, he sent through these five portraits and explains what brought him to make them:
I recently moved to a new area in Lagos called Ajah, an extension of the Lekki peninsula which, not that long ago, was a scantily populated ‘border town’ on the outskirts of Lagos but is fast becoming one of the many commercial and residential hubs of the city. One day as I was driving close to home I noticed and was drawn to the particular stretch of wall advertisements (a common sight in other highly populated areas of Lagos) that inspired me to feature them in a series of self portraits capturing my almost daily interaction with this particular aspect of the Lagos environment.
Lagos, the commercial capital of the country, is a city of over 10 million people where competition for space is a daily struggle and extends from accommodation to advertising (and everything in between). As such, every available space, from signboards to the sides of buildings, are indiscriminately plastered with hundreds of handbills and posters and scrawled with text advertising the many and diverse services offered by the city’s enterprising residents and drivers of a robust large informal economy. Validating the authenticity of the information contained in these ads becomes quite a complex task for the consumer, however, due to the disorganized mode of presentation and often incomplete details. My engagement with one such wall of ‘classifieds’ [above] serves to question the effectiveness of such guerilla marketing.
Lost in Transit
This series captures my time spent on a short language course in Berlin, in a city and country so different from my home. It was a confusing, anxious and lonely period as I was also going through other personal transitions at the time; it was also the first time I turned the camera on myself.
With Lost in Transit I explore the challenging process of finding my place in an alien environment. The mind is a function of thoughts and emotions – loneliness, hope, anxiety, enthusiasm. These feelings are revealed in my sojourn in a foreign land as I subconsciously plug into the social and cultural system, yet confused in my quest to find my place in the landscape of the city, Berlin.
This body of work was inspired by my experience as a visitor in Padua, an economic hub in northern Italy. Of Padua’s population of 212,500, approximately 3% are African immigrants, who are generally regarded in a negative light due to a recent scarcity of jobs that has forced many migrant labourers to beg on the city’s streets. As a visiting artist in Padua in the summer of 2010, I was struck by a similar, distorted perception of me arising from the colour of my skin, my accent or perhaps my obvious unfamiliarity with a new city and country.
By creating self portraits in spherical street mirrors around the city, I explore a sense of two-way distortions – my outsider’s view of Padua and in turn, the city’s reflection of my (perceived) identity – often very small in relation to the landscape. At the same time, the mirrors allow for greater visibility, extending one’s vision beyond the immediate vicinity – perhaps reflective of my desire for a “bigger picture” view of the obviously more complex people we all are.
I was in Helsinki, Finland in 2011 for a residency supported by the KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, and also took part in the ARS 11 exhibition of contemporary African artists. I stayed on an historic Island called Suomenlinna, a sea fortress that is a ferry ride away from the Helsinki. I was there in April, which was still the middle (!) of winter there, and was struck by the reality of how people on the Island live, while also trying to adapt to the harsh climate myself. I naturally continued my exploration of self in yet another ‘alien’ environment.
This work explores the human body in an alien environment – in this case, a wintry landscape void of other human beings. There is a choreographed assimilation of the body and other masses in that space. Here the body takes the form of a headless being to imply its invisibility while validating its presence by taking an ‘alien’ form itself in the environment.
This series began as an experiment about using my body in relation to space, and juxtaposes the body form and the idea of freedom / self expression with a chaotic / restrictive environment. It’s an ongoing series that I am photographing in different neighbourhoods and landscapes of Lagos (and other cities).
How does one exhale in a demanding and constrictive city where millions of people struggle not just for physical space but also a mental anchor point? When one decides to climb higher than where one is expected to be, then suddenly realizes what is promised doesn’t even exist in that space at the top, do you remain there or jump? When one decides to jump, in an ecstatic moment of escape and temporary liberation, where does he expect to land?
These and many other questions overwhelmed me when I first started this series, Ecstatic. In performing and photographing Ecstatic, I make my way to the top of vehicles around my neighborhood in Lagos only to take a rapturous leap, in effect creating a temporary social space for myself before gravity returns me to reality. This unique space forming as my body curves through the air allows me to agonize, scream, exhale and at the same time empathize with other Lagosians like me in the daily struggle to exist. The inner turmoil created by a merciless city whose pressures tug at me from every side needs some form of exorcism, and Ecstatic has provided me that momentary exhilaration.
These images are all excerpts from larger bodies of work, which can be viewed on Oghobase’s website.