I lived in Nigeria for 11 years before I moved to South West England to go to an English boarding school, and it was in the U.K I stayed until I moved to Berlin last year.
As a teenager, I travelled home (Lagos) about three times a year, but as I grew older, my trips to Lagos during the year became fewer and the gaps in between each trip I took became longer.
Consequently, I am not what one might call a ‘typical Nigerian or African’. However I am pretty comfortable with just how ‘Nigerian/African’ I am, because I feel that like religion- heritage and culture is a private thing. So I celebrate my African heritage and culture the way I see fit.
Since entering the fashion industry, when a project allows- I have always tried to show my culture, whilst blending it in with other cultures because not only do I find this eclectic fusing truly reflective of who I am as a person, but I love the way fashion allows one to experiment with inspirations and cultures from all over the world.
A typical example of this cultural fusion is the Zula shoot I did a while back, which is still my most popular shoot to date.
For this shoot I was inspired by one of my favourite icons- Grace Jones. I adored the warrior role she played as ‘Zula’ in Conan the Destroyer (1984). Maybe I should have been offended by the Hollywood stereotypical depiction of the ‘African woman’, but I think Grace Jones took that role, and for lack of a better word, killed it.
Using her as my main inspiration, I conjured up a shoot where fashion wise I would use a black model, Nigerian artefacts, Ankara print fabrics I had bought from my local market in Lagos, pieces from my favourite fancy dress shop, Angels (London) and pieces from High-End designers like Manish Arora, Kristian AAdnevik and Ashish.
I have to give great thanks to my team for taking my vision to another level, it was the photographer’s idea (Marcelo Benfield) to darken the model’s (Sosheba Griffiths) skin artificially.
And kudos to the makeup artist (Ken Nakano) for taking tribal body paint inspiration from Grace Jones’s iconic, ‘I’m Not Perfect’ video. It was also a joy to see the hair stylist (Kunio), apply his talents in creating the neon extension wonder that adorned Sosheba’s head.
The above image ended up being chosen and exhibited for the Cannes photo mode, ‘8ème Festival International de la Photographie de Mode’ in 2010.
All pictures courtesy of Marcelo Benfield
To see more images from Zula, please go to www.bikijohn.com