By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
It was a Friday afternoon in February that I visited this studio of a young artist in Abuja. A brilliant photo artist. Obinna Obioma, as he is popularly known, is one of a flock of the new wing photo documentarists, who see the lens as a medium of communication.
Like Jacques Deridda, his communication with the lens is deconstructed and every shot has a relationship with the one taken earlier or will be taken.
Obioma’s collection is welcoming; with his authorial signature verging into a direction that leaves the viewer puzzled.
Identity and heritage are issues that confront young people in the age of globalization, maybe ‘glocalisation’. With globalisation, many young people find themselves born in countries that are not their ancestral homes and creating an ‘other’ factor for them.
Obioma, a self-taught portrait, fashion and fine art photographer and later an alumnus of the International Center of Photography, New York, he abandons a traditional symmetry and creating ‘zigzaggy’, sometimes, disquieting spaces. Over the years, his work has metamorphosed from simple portraiture to having its defined style, theme, motives and direction.
Obioma, who had his formal education in the United Kingdom, has since found himself shuttling between the U.K, USA and Nigeria for both commercial and personal work. His eclectic interest on the meaning of his shots puts him on a ‘search for the word’ like Professor in Wole Soyinka’s The Road. He investigates the human condition, touching on specific issues such as, individuality, African heritage and identity to find the hidden meaning.
In framing his shots, Obioma is engrossed with the movement of the camera lens in such a manner that celebrates humanity. His shots, no doubt, represent a conversation between the ‘created’ and ‘contemplated’ being.
In his The Diaspora Blues, he interrogates crisis of identity that young people who were born outside the country find themselves. Diasporan-born athletes like Anthony Joshua, Marcus Rashford, Kris Akabusi and Christine Ohuruogu and many others are torn in this identity crisis.
The work, though still photographs, investigates this phenomenon through the view of first-generation Africans and Caribbeans born in the USA, who see themselves as the ‘Other’ in both their ancestry countries and the country of their birth, showcasing and celebrating their dual cultural identities of being African and American.
Beyond The Diaspora Blues, he also embarks on a photography project called, Noir Project, which is an open-ended journey across creeds, age, gender, nationalities, ethnicities and locations. “At its centre, Noir is about individuality and identity, this is why the images are created in black and white and lit with just natural (window) light to remove all distractions from the subject,” Obioma says.
While in Alter Ego, he takes a creative direction that was birth from themes of ‘Identity, Individuality, Otherness and African Heritage’, using both conventional photographs and having fashion illustrations; drawing emphasis on the styling as a tool to further talk about identity and African heritage. “Identity and heritage are issues that most young people are facing or have faced in their lives. With globalization, many young people find themselves in the same situation; being born in countries that are not their ancestral homes; creating an “other” factor for these young people who find themselves in an identity comatose,” he reveals.
He says the work, Alter Ego, through still photographs, investigates this phenomenon buttressed through the lens of fashion, the view of a woman showcasing and celebrating her dual cultural identities of being African and Western. This work is done in collaboration with Nafisa Bukar, an illustrator.
Another issue of utmost importance to him is communication. To him, “humans have always had an unquenchable need to connect with one another; whether it be through pigeon messages, notes in bottles, telegraphs, phone calls or through the internet and social media, we have always found a way to stay in touch.”
With the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — and the virus spreading like wildfire predominantly through touch — killing thousands and causing a global economic meltdown, and with no immediate vaccine for this virus, he asks, what is meaning to a zombie? And where does meaning come?
One the of recommendations of World Health Organisation to halt the spread of coronavirus is social distancing. Obioma, however, argues that social distancing unsettles humanity’s quest to have effective communication. He concludes, “this means that the fabric of human nature, to physically connect, is also being attacked.”
With the aid of photography, Through the Screen, investigates people around the world during these unprecedented times, showing how they are dealing with the new guidelines to socially distance, work from home and in some worse cases, quarantine.
Using technology and the Internet as a means to connect with these individuals in isolation but also cut across borders, the work creates and captures the images of these persons in their self-quarantine and social distancing spaces.
Some of the people he has used to carry out his dream in different locations include, Jacqueline Norberto in New York, USA, Uche Jacqueline Idigbe – Montreal, Canada, Chantel Urbanowicz- New Jersey, USA, Stephanie Duchi – Doha, Qatar and Nafisa Bukar – Berlin, Germany. Obioma has worked with major brands and clients both in Nigeria and abroad and his work has been published in Picton Magazine, Vogue Italia, Ellement Magazine and many others.