Akinola Davies Jr, Ruth Ossai and Ibrahim Kamara team up with Kenzo for a project celebrating the beauty of community in Nigeria
Kenzo’s Summer 17 collection has made its way to Nsukka in South East Nigeria, thanks to the awesome creative talents of filmmaker Akinola Davies Jr. The French fashion brand’s co-creative directors, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, were so impressed by his work, including Cyndia Harvey’s This Hair Of Mine (which Nataal debuted at the AKAA art fair in Paris last year), that they commissioned Davies to create a project incorporating this season’s ranges based around the notion of ceremony.
Davies enlisted fellow UK-based artists, Nigerian photographer Ruth Ossai and Sierra Leonean stylist Ibrahim Kamara, and off they went to the Igbo heartlands to capture the rites and rituals of its people. Gidi gidi bu ugwu eze, an Igbo proverb meaning Unity is strength, encapsulates the bright and positive energy they conjured up through this effervescent film and series of image.
“It’s about young black Nigerian bodies and capturing them celebrating Igbo traditions, showing that beauty is always present when there is a commitment to the celebration of culture,” explains Davies. “This is what an inclusive pageant created by a community devoted to its own growth looks like. It’s about Nigerians telling their own stories. Family nurtures everything and your community is your extended family. Utilising one another and trusting in each other’s process.”
The concept was inspired by the region’s three main festivals: Onwa Eto/Onwa Ito (Third Moon festival) paying homage to deceased family members, the Onwa Ise (Fifth Moon festival) marking the beginning of yam harvesting, and the Onwa Ess’a (Seventh Moon festival) indicating the ripeness of the yam. As such the team worked closely with a large cast of young men and women in the community to express themselves through the clothing, and their own take on dressing up and showing out together. Masquerade figures loom large while beauty kings and queens dance, pose, preen and mount motorbikes to go for a ride.
The project is currently being exhibited in Kenzo’s London and Paris stores, and also launches Kenzo Folio, a new quarterly publication interpreting the legendary label’s odd ball approach to style through collaborations with experimental image makers.
Ossai, who is based in West Yorkshire, is known for her authentic aesthetic that creates new notions of beauty while empowering African identities, and also works in youth development. Ibrahim Kamara is fast making a name for himself with his DIY approach to styling and work with photographers including Kristin-Lee Moolman and Nadine Ijewere – their joint project (also shot in Nigeria) will be debuted at Nataal’s Red Hook Labs exhibition on 4 May.
Davies aka Crack Stevens, has directed music videos for the likes of Farai and Klein, made programmes for NTS radio, DJs at some of the best underground nights in London, and often speaks on issues including mental health and gender equality. He’ll be joining the line-up for Nataal’s salon at the Southbank Centre’s Africa Utopia festival in July, and before then will be performing at Non Exchange at the ICA in June.