“There is more than one way to be married, to be a woman and to be African,” says Nigerian photographer Lakin Ogunbanwo about his series e wá wo mi, which explores the diversity of bridal traditions within the country. Featuring defiant women from Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani tribes and clad in sumptuous, brightly coloured garms, the series couldn’t be further from the meek modesty that often creeps into bridal portraiture in the West.
The series is an offshoot of Lakin’s ongoing project Are We Good Enough, which documents the hats worn as cultural signifiers by different ethnic groups in Nigeria. e wá wo mi hones in on bridal ceremonies, but presents traditions as vibrant and alive (and enormously cool) rather than as an ethnographic study. “With the world’s current interest in Africa, it was important for me to speak of ‘Africanness’ but within a clear Nigerian context,” Lakin tells It’s Nice That. “I’ve felt a need to document the complexities of my culture to resist the West’s monolithic narrative of Africa.”
The topic was particularly interesting to Lakin because of the performative nature of getting married. Weddings are a performance of love, of family bonds and cultural identity but also the pressures placed on women in their future role of wife, mother and daughter-in-law. The expectation is of fertility, support and submissiveness. “As an observer it feels like the brides are performing ‘woman’, whatever it means to each ethnic group,” says Lakin. “I’ve used veiled subjects so they are somewhat interchangeable. While there are different ‘performances’ required from the different ethnic groups, the ultimate performance is of this new woman that each is expected to become, which runs through all them.”
A Yoruba bride sports a stiff headscarf called a gele, while a Hausa-Fulani woman bears intricately henna-painted hands. Ivory bracelets and a coral beaded cap and necklace are the visual markers of a Igbo bride. In terms of style and composition, the photographer was inspired by the opulence of Renaissance paintings, using lighting to draw out the sensuousness of different fabrics. Lakin wanted to appropriate this Western visual language to comment on the lack of ‘blackness’ within paintings of this era, and to celebrate the beauty and strength of these women at a complex moment of their lives.
“With my work I’ve always tried to share a personal vision of my immediate surroundings,” say Lakin. “It’s always been important for me to portray beauty as I see it and provide the audience with a personal insight into life on this part of the continent.”