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.
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.