The artist and digital influencer
contributes an exclusive portrait shoot
and series of cartoons to Nataal

A fist full of flowers, models backstage at a fashion show, street hawkers touting their wares, Femi Kuti in a post Felabration glow at The New Afrika Shrine and self portraits of a striking young woman with big hair and even bigger smile. This is a glance at Yagazie Emezi’s Instagram feed where over 62K followers draw inspiration from this multi disciplinary artist. As an illustrator, photographer, creative consultant and voracious vlogger, her passion for sharing and creating African stories is addictive.

Born in Aba, Nigeria in 1989 to a Nigerian father and Malaysian mother, she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico for high school (where she discovered a competitive flair for slam poetry) and went on to achieve a double major in cultural anthropology and africana studies. She moved to Lagos in 2014, where she’s been busy further fuelling her skills ever since. She uses YouTube to discuss social issues, has shot documentary, fashion and travel images, curated a young photographers’ exhibition and completed her soon to be published first book of cartoons, which promote body positivity and representation. And now she shares two new works exclusively with Nataal.

Time for some real talk with Emezi:

So what drew you to Lagos?
Firstly, after eight years in New Mexico, I just wanted to be back in Nigeria. Lagos is the one place I feel stressed and excited and that I’m actually living. My mission has been to use my digital platforms to be part of the positive perception of what it means to be an African woman and creative.

What have been the biggest blessings - and challenges - so far?
I arrived with no money and no job and had to get out there and network, which I find hard as a natural introvert. In Lagos you have to prove yourself. It’s not about words; you have to make it and show it and do it. But the advantage is you end up pushing yourself. It also means I’ve made some good friendships along the way.

Who are some of your favourite talents in Lagos right now?
I’m really into the singer and composer Falana. After sitting in on just one of her studio sessions recently, I’ve become a groupie. In fashion, I love I.Am.Isigo because it’s really wearable, and Maki Oh’s designs are out of this world.

"My mission is to use my digital platforms to be part of the positive perception of what it means to be an African woman and creative"

Where are your Lagos hot spots?
Art Cafe in Victoria Island is my go-to place. I get my wifi fix there. The atmosphere is consistently warm and welcoming. I start off with coffee in the mornings and end with a couple of wine glasses in the evenings.

Tell us about your photography.
My camera has been with me for a couple of years but I got more focused on it a year ago. My eye for photography is more gritty than polished. I like to capture stories as uninterrupted as possible, so I work predominately with natural light. And there’s just so much movement in Lagos to capture. I’ve covered the S.T.E.R. Initiative, a rape crisis centre in Lagos founded by incredibly courageous women. I also helped spread the word about Food Clique, one of the few NGOs in the city dedicated to feeding the hungry.

Who have you shot for Nataal?
Kapaya Lukusa (Kapa Kapa) is a 22-year-old Congolese rapper who moved to Albuquerque with his brothers, sister and mother after living in Zambia and Zimbabwe as refugees. I first met Kapa in a club. He wore a bright pink suit and instantly stood out. He invited me to photograph him and his crew. I showed up to his home and walked in on his entire family and best friend i.e. his crew! This series of images uncover the African creative story, which is never just about an artist. It’s also about the people behind him or her who have made sacrifices to uplift and support one another for the benefit of all. His family bond has been strengthened through the losses they faced in camps, the journeys made across countries, and the building of a new life. Their home is also reminiscent of a lot of homes we grew up around - from the artificial flowers to the pictures still framed with cardboard.

Describe your cartoon style and your ongoing series Yaga Life Facts.
After years of drawing portraits, the simplicity of cartoons appealed to me. I wanted to share more of myself in a relatable way. Yaga is well, me. She is drawn real-life experiences, thoughts and ideas.

In what ways can social media be a force for change?
Social media is nothing without its numbers so everyone on their individual platforms all serve important roles in terms of knowing when to speak up and when to share stories outside of their own lives. It’s an important tool for preserving our culture and getting the right sort of images out there.

Finish this sentence - "2016 will be…
focused and productive. I hope to build on the foundations that I have been constructing since I moved to Lagos. I am excited to travel more, to document more and to share more.