Lakin Ogunbanwo

WHATIFTHEWORLD | Cape Town
1 Argyle Street, Corner of Argyle & Albert Road, Woodstock
December 5, 2015–January 23, 2016

Lakin Ogunbanwo, Uncover, 2015, archival ink-jet print, 47 x 31".

The subject of Nigerian photographer Lakin Ogunbanwo’s debut South African solo exhibition, “Are We Good Enough,” is the brightly colored and sometimes intricately embroidered headwear favored by his male countrymen. Of his ten head-and-shoulder portraits here, nine show a shirtless model from the back. The photographer’s sitter alternates between modeling the snug, rounded caps associated with Igbo and Hausa ethnic groups and the floppy aso-oke fabric hats worn by Yoruba men. A portrait of a brimless red cap typically worn by Igbo men is titled Untitled (Red Hat) (all works 2015), while one front and one rear portrait of the same golden-yellow Yoruba cap are titled Here and Now and Uncover, respectively.

The ostensible function of this series is to highlight ethnic identity through a fashionable adornment, although Ogunbanwo, who works as a fashion and editorial portraitist in Lagos, is also clearly interested in how fashion functions as a marker of urban manners and dandyism. The tension between the anthropological purpose of his studio portraits and the vivid material qualities of the caps themselves lend this journeyman’s project a measure of intrigue.

Ogunbanwo is only twenty-eight, a decade younger than Lagosian portraitist J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere was in 1968 when he began his career-defining project of photographing Nigerian women, often from the side and rear, to showcase their elaborate hairdos. Ogunbanwo has clearly paid attention to his illustrious predecessor, but the real point of connection is their common understanding of the camera’s ability to analyze variance through comparison. The history of photography is chock-full of such comparative projects systematically recording sameness and difference. While Ogunbanwo’s portrait series may not represent a fillip to this history, it does convey his understanding of how this process requires subordinating creative flair to something approaching a disciplining bureaucracy.

Sean O’Toole