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“I was a successful fisherman, then in November 2016, I lost everything in one day. All my properties were burnt by hoodlums. I’m not happy at all, sometimes I pray for death. I can barely take care of myself nor my children. I lost everything I had, I’m not happy”. Jimoh Boton, 35, Lagos, Nigeria
From Etinosa Yvonne’s It’s All In My Head

Work / Photography

Etinosa Yvonne’s poignant photographic montages reflect on trauma and memory

Is it possible to “move on” from a traumatic event? What does it take to make peace with the thoughts and memories of a difficult past? How does society help or hinder individuals affected by PTSD?

These are just some of the questions explored by Etinosa Yvonne in her ongoing project, It’s All In My Head. The series merges layered photographic montages with interview extracts in order to reflect on the rising number of violent conflicts that have taken place in Nigeria over the years — most recently because of the deadly attacks of Boko Haram. In particular, Etinosa is interested in uncovering the psychological and emotional consequences that such experiences have had on survivors and witnesses.

Etinosa was born in Benin, Nigeria but currently lives and works as a freelance photographer in Abuja. After spending a few years in social media marketing, Etinosa resigned from her job in 2017 to pursue her primary interest: photography. Now, Etinosa spends her time presenting the world with thought-provoking visual narratives of underreported social issues as they affect everyday Nigerians.

It’s All In My Head is a poignant reflection on the internal states of survivors of terrorism and violent conflict. Etinosa’s carefully composed photographs point to the complexity and plurality of pain, memory and loss. Below, we chat to Etinosa to learn a bit more about her work:

It’s Nice That: Tell us about It’s All In My Head. How did the project come about?

Etinosa Yvonne: It’s All In My Head explores the coping mechanisms of survivors of terrorism and violent conflict through layered portraits of the survivors and the things they do to help them move forward. This project advocates for increased access to psychosocial support for survivors of terrorism and violent conflict in Nigeria, which, in turn, will improve their mental health.

Sometime in February this year I watched a documentary called Salam Neighbour. There was a young boy in the documentary that made me think about the state of mind of refugees and internally displaced people. The young boy happened to be a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, who, at the time, refused to go to school in the camp. After much persuasion by the producers of the documentary he opened up to them, and it became obvious that he was traumatised by the things he had witnessed in his country. It was for this reason he was unwilling to go to school. At the end of the documentary the young boy returns to school.
After viewing the documentary, I was curious to understand how some of the survivors of terrorism in Nigeria coped with their new, unpleasant reality amidst little or no psychosocial support.

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“Before the crisis that affected my community in 2016 took place, I had a land and a big shop which was doing well, sales was great. Now, i have close to nothing. When i think of all i lost, i cry. I have never been the same.” Janet Apotinpe, 48, Lagos, Nigeria
From Etinosa Yvonne’s It’s All In My Head

EY: The norm here is that whenever there is an attack, humanitarian organisations, government agencies and others focus on providing relief materials, setting up make-shift clinics, schools — the list goes on. However, very little priority is given to assessing the mental health of the survivors. I started this project so that I could draw society’s attention to these survivors’ mental states.

During my chat with some of these survivors, I realise that a lot of them haven’t gotten over the sad events they witnessed. Some of them were never even asked about their experience nor about how they felt. Hence, while a lot of the survivors struggle with depression, PTSD, and vengeful thoughts, others have found solace in their existence and religion. I had initially planned to work with only survivors of Boko Haram attacks, but then I realised that my country, Nigeria, had been plagued by violent conflict in recent years. So I decided to work with survivors of terrorism and violent conflict.

INT: How does layered photography offer alternative expressive possibilities?

EY: By using layered portraits of the survivors and the things that they do to help them move forward, I try to show viewers what goes on inside these people’s heads.

INT: Can you tell us about why you decided to include quotations alongside the visuals?

EY: The quotes are excerpts from conversations I had with the survivors. This project is about the survivors, so I thought it was appropriate to ensure that everyone that comes across this project can read first-hand accounts about what the survivor went through —that is, in the words of the survivors — and their coping mechanisms, if they have any.

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“When I wake up in the morning and just before I go to bed I think of all that happened. I went through hell and I can’t get it out of my head. Boko Haram is the worst thing that happened to me”. Hajara Abubakar, 24, Borno, Nigeria. March 2018
From Etinosa Yvonne’s It’s All In My Head

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“Whenever I’m severely depressed, I look for money and go to an internet café, then I design the building plan for a house. It makes me happy a lot, it reminds me of how my life was before Boko Haram attacked my community.” Abdul-Azeez Buba, 33, Abuja. March 2018
From Etinosa Yvonne’s It’s All In My Head

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“I was pregnant the day the crisis happened, while running for safety, I fell into labor and with the help of some women I gave birth. Three days later, two of my children where found dead, they died on the same day I gave birth. As they tried to flee the chaos, they ran into the river and drowned. To loose a child hurts more than fire, words can’t express how I feel. No child can be replaced in their position”. Tinu Hungbo, 30, Lagos. September 2018
From Etinosa Yvonne’s It’s All In My Head

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“I got married in 2015 and since then, I’ve had 2 still births and one miscarriage. I think it’s because when I’m pregnant, I think of what happened when Boko Haram attacked my community, maybe that’s why the babies keep dying. I can’t get everything out of my head, I just can’t”. Sarah Gideon, 25, Borno, Nigeria
From Etinosa Yvonne’s It’s All In My Head

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“Before the crisis in 2008, I used to be the perfect definition of a Nigerian ‘big woman’. Although I was a widow, I was doing very well for myself and my children. I had a very big shop where I sold food stuffs. Suddenly, in 2008, crisis erupted and I lost all I had worked for over the years. I had a big house and I was about to start building another, I also had a very big shop, I lost everything in one day. John 3:16 is my favourite bible verse, it’s one of the reasons I’m still breathing, it reminds me of God’s love. Whenever I get moody, I reflect on the verse and smile”. Rose Yusuf, 55, Jos, Nigeria
From Etinosa Yvonne’s It’s All In My Head