“I want to bring the narrative back to us”: Omofolarin Omolayole brings visibility to the Black queer community

Diversity, representation and inclusivity are what drives this photographer’s work to great lengths.

Date
15 December 2020
Reading Time
4 minute read

When Omofolarin Omolayole reflects on his past, he notices how the things he was most interested in are still heavily linked to his work today. The photographer was born in Nigeria, grew up in Lagos and moved to New York for school in 2016, before pursuing further studies in screen and photography at Parsons School of Design. “Around nursery and primary school, I was quite different from other kids,” he tells It’s Nice That. “When boys wanted to play soccer and liked the colour blue, I was interested in the complete opposite; when everyone was learning their time’s table, I just couldn’t get a hold of it. Academics were not my strong point and neither was fitting in with my peers; at such a young and impressionable age, it was tough – not being an outsider but constantly feeling like one.”

Learning to cope with these experiences, Omofolarin turned towards daydreaming. His mind would escape and journey to a world of playful imagery, where boundaries and limits cease to exist so that he could create a hyper-animated version of his own reality. This is precisely where his love of photography began, for his mind was the oven that would cook up all of the imagery to come. “Even if the images I created in my mind were not constantly peaceful,” he says, “it was where I found peace and felt whole.” Then, when he got his hands on a Nintendo NSI just over ten years ago, the kind that had a camera, he used the device to reproduce images in his head. And soon enough he started capturing his surroundings with great intent.

Now, Omofolarin uses his medium to give visibility to those who need it most, not only on his own personal accord but for others too. A move inspired by his past, the photographer notes how he rarely saw femme young Black boys represented in the media, or if they were, they were perceived as being ‘weak' – “I hated myself and thought I had a problem because that was what society had told me, that femme boys are feeble and subordinate.” This culminated in a lack of confidence and faith in his own identity, yet photography was one of the life-defining factors that allowed him to express himself freely as a form of self-love and reassurance.

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Omofolarin Omolayole (Copyright © Omofolarin Omolayole, 2020)

Working introspectively, Omofolarin has always documented himself, even from a young age; the first selfie he took was in 2008. Over time, the photographs became inspirational – “allowing me to ‘see myself’ in times where I didn’t feel seen, and reflect,” he says. When he’s not working on commissions for the likes of Vogue, Document Journal, Nataal or i-D, he’ll spend his time compiling personal stories or working with brands. Inspiration takes form in a myriad of manners, but often he will turn towards his life experiences and dreams, alongside artists such as Dawoud Bey, Gordon Parks, Victor Ehikhamenor, and writers like James Baldwin and George M. Johnson.

The latter are both queer writers who have influenced his thought process heavily, especially for their explorations on how queerness and Blackness intersect. “Reading Baldwin's work has inspired me to want to make the queer community more visible, and how it’s my duty as a queer artist to make this one of my goals,” says Omofolarin. “Most mainstream media objectifies, degrades and exploits queer people a lot of the time, so I want to bring the narrative back to us and show us for who we truly are.”

Diversity, representation and inclusivity are what drives Omofolarin to great lengths. Working on both personal projects as well as commissions, if the work doesn’t allow himself to shine nor is he able to cast people of colour from the LGBTQ+ community, meaning he probably won’t take it on. “After all, we are the ones usually not represented by the mainstream media in a positive light, or at all,” he says. This firm and necessary ethos can be seen in his most recent personal project, an ongoing collection of photo essays and videos titled All My Dreams Set In Stone. In the project which was nine months in the making, he hopes to create a space where all are allowed to dream and “affirm a vision filled with hope.” Additionally, Omofolarin intends to use the imagery he’s created to cultivate and cherish these dreams.

Most of all, however, it’s about spreading a visual message filled with hope for others to learn and enjoy. “At the end of the day,” he says, concluding on his practice and plans for the future, “God’s plan for me is what I will follow. But for now, I want to just continue to tell stories, hone my talent, gain knowledge and stay faithful.”

GalleryOmofolarin Omolayole (Copyright © Omofolarin Omolayole, 2020)

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Omofolarin Omolayole (Copyright © Omofolarin Omolayole, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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