CHOOSE ME (2016), Light-jet print, 90 x 60 cm, Edition of 10 + 2APs
CHOOSE ME (2016), Light-jet print, 90 x 60 cm, Edition of 10 + 2APs
Image: Lakin Ogunbanwo

Based in Lagos, 30-year old Nigerian photographer Lakin Ogunbanwo works between and within a fusion of fashion photography and contemporary art. He is known for opaque portraiture that collapse and subvert traditions within the genre through conceptually-driven formalism and subtle eroticism.

Social critique is often redolent in his work through sartorial signifiers, most notable is the artist’s Are We Good Enough series focused on hidden hierarchies evident in Nigerian millinery traditions. Identity construction and colonial-era racial classifications underwrite the fruits of a recent residency in Cape Town — We Must Not Be Looking is a new solo show at WHATIFTHEWORLD in Keyes Art Mile, Johannesburg.

 I WAS GOING TO CANCEL (2015), Archival ink-jet print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, Image size: 119 x 79.5 cm, Edition of 10
I WAS GOING TO CANCEL (2015), Archival ink-jet print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, Image size: 119 x 79.5 cm, Edition of 10
Image: Lakin Ogunbanwo

The artist’s ongoing nod to African studio photography of the 1960s and 70s remains evident in the flat colour backgrounds and stark compositions of the new series, while his inclusion of these flat colours into the palette of the costumes themselves — or as the artist describes them; "wearable skins" — marks a significant shift in formalism and a further development in his ongoing corruption of classic portraiture. Models behind foliage, equally revealed and obscured by shadow and literally turning their backs to camera have all been visual and conceptual strategies employed by Ogunbanwo throughout his career. It is these wearable skins that mark this series most strongly, and in them I find an improvised quality — the use of imported synthetic textiles so characteristic to anyone having spent time in Cape Town’s garment district. The stretched nylon, garish wool pompoms and plastic sequins of the costumes are at odds with the more refined and particular garments evident in his earlier Are We Good Enough series. The childlike quality of the wearable skins is intentional though: a literal corruption of the racial signifier ‘coloured’ the artist experienced first-hand while resident in Cape Town. At odds with the term’s colloquial meaning, the artist’s spontaneous resistance to the identifier has prompted a “satirical reimagining of race by creating images that are a literal translation of the term Coloured”.

WOULD I KNOW YOU AT ALL (2016), Light-jet print, 90 x 60 cm, Edition of 10 + 2APs
WOULD I KNOW YOU AT ALL (2016), Light-jet print, 90 x 60 cm, Edition of 10 + 2APs
Image: Lakin Ogunbanwo

By applying the stretched nylon costumes in this series, the artist removes the models’ specificity, and the form of the mask takes on the bodily — denying overt signifiers of race, gender or social standing. While conceptually hinting at the capacity for invention or performance in our daily conversations with notions of identity — both our own and those around us — freed from the fixity of judgement or prejudice. The multi-coloured and theatrical costumes operationalise Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin’s language of the carnivalesque, reinforced in the sense of community evident in the “We” of the exhibition’s title. Ogunbanwo finds conceptual traction in the carnival’s extraction of “all individuals from non-carnival life, and because there are no hierarchical positions during carnival, ideologies which manifest the mind of individuals cannot exist (Bakhtin, 1941)".

While this series is most striking, and even garish in some senses, it risks shifting into mere totemic representation of the key themes the artist is focused on. The series does, however, signal a strong move into a freer and more spontaneous capture. In its focus on the spectacle, We Must Not Be Looking is a first step in a new direction, I look forward to such future loosening and expansion of the artist’s controlled oeuvre, known for its careful specificity.

We must not be looking
Solo exhibition by Lakin Ogunbanwo
Ends 18 March

WHATIFTHEWORLD.com
Images courtesy the Artist and WHATIFTHEWORLD


Visit WHATIFTHEWORLD at the Cape Town Art Fair 16-19 February, Booth C4 at the Cape Town Convention Centre. 
capetownartfair.co.za

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