Delali Ayivi’s photography strives to address “uncomfortable truths” and the lack of diversity in the media
Born to a German mother and Togolese father, the London-based photographer uses her medium to present a different narrative to a world that’s dominated by Western ideals.
- Ayla Angelos
- 12 June 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
When asked whether photography was a medium she always knew she’d pursue, Delali Ayivi humbly responds with: “Not at all!” In fact, she still to this day struggles to call herself a photographer.
Based in London, Delali first started out by documenting her friends and family in Germany, Togo and Malawi. “[The latter] was during the Tumblr phase, so most of our inspiration was centred around Western, mostly white American aesthetics, but we made it our own,” she tells It’s Nice That. The most pivotal moment, however, was observing her uncle take pictures at church every Sunday in Lomé, whom, alongside her Togo-based grandfather, is a paster. “Seeing the way people posed for him and how we posed for our own pictures – I think that is really where my photography style developed.”
Continuing her studies in London and taking more of a fashion photography approach, Delali noticed how the African and Togo cultures were barely represented in her creative degree curriculum. As such, she decided to document the side of fashion that you don’t often see, especially in university. “I started reaching out to people I’d met on nights out or friends who had a cool style, asking if I could photograph them,” she says, explaining how she’d gained experience in this field working with Lomé Fashion Week. A couple of years down the line and Delali narrowed in on the Togolese fashion scene for her final year project. Working with her friend Malaika, who’s based in Lomé, the duo commenced an ongoing project titled Togo Yeye (which translated from Ewe means “a new Togo”) – a project that strove to champion Togolese creativity, as well as empower its local creatives and strengthen the community.
Delali’s dual heritage has most certainly impacted the work that she creates today. Born to a German mother and Togolese father, she “grew up between countries that often, especially historically, stand in contrast to each other.” But it’s this “tension” between the two that interests her creatively. “I also like the awkwardness that comes with being photographed and posing for a picture.” She cites how it’s this background that influences her photographic motivations, yet due to her spending most of the year living in the Togolese diaspora it’s also one that she treads on delicately. “I’m overall very cautious of what narrative I perpetuate about Togo, Germany or the people I photograph in general; I believe this intentionally reflects within my work.”
A further key influence on Delali is her great grandfather, named Alex A. Acolatse, who was one of the first photographers in Togo. Delali counts herself fortunate to regularly sift through the well-curated photo albums that her family has provided. Other than this, she’s also inspired by the things she sees by the side of the road and the minor details that people may overlook – all of which are factors that form the makeup to a recent project of hers, where she photographed her younger brothers in quarantine. “I flew back to Germany as soon as the pandemic worsened in Europe,” she adds, describing how she took the shots at home or on her daily walks. “When I felt inspired and creative, I would dress up my brothers in whatever I could find around the house. When I look at these images, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that, even though my family does not always understand what I do, they continue to be supportive of my work.”
For Delali, photography has grown into a medium that enables her to document and present a different narrative to a world that’s dominated by Western ideals. “I started photographing because it was the best way for me to fill the gaps that I felt were missing in fashion media,” she says. Not only this, but she sees photography as a way of addressing “uncomfortable truths”, particularly in terms of France’s “continued control over its former colonies”, as well as the “alienation of Black Germans from their own country” – plus the underrepresentation of Black people within the media.
Actively promoting change within the industry, Delali has been working on a long-term project in Germany for the past year, addressing her experience of being Black and German. “There are many forms of racism and micro-aggressions in Germany which remain normalised, largely due to the different experiences between white people and POC in the country being ignored,” she concludes. However, she views the recent protests as hopeful and sees positive social change forthcoming. “As a Black person in Germany I have often felt alienated from this society, it’s even the small things like not being able to find your shade of makeup in drugstores. When I first moved to London, I was shocked by the range of foundations; such experiences are underlined by being constantly described as exotic or different.”
“Even though Black people have been in Germany for a long time now, we continue to have a guest status. This makes me wonder why it’s so difficult to understand the duality of being German and Black. Why are we not visible?”