Art projects can sometimes take a long time in the making, and I wanted to speak with you a bit about that. Your “Gedu” project, for example, that you did as a documentarian, took you 1 year and 5 months, I believe. Could you please talk a bit about it and why time is important when it comes to developing a project?

Yes, so this project took that long. It was outside of Lagos and so I would take trips out of Lagos for about a week- spending a week there, shoot and then come back. What I did was whenever nothing was happening, I would sit and have discussions with people, and this is what I said before about getting to know people. One of the characters in the story, Marigi, the main character, this is how I got to know him better and how I discovered that he actually loves plants- he’s cutting down trees in the forest but he loves plants. He’s dreaming of eventually building his own house and having a garden full of plants and flowers that he can tend to. Knowing that adds another level to the story- to understand that as much as this person is going into the forest cutting down trees, there is a side of him that really wants to see nature thrive, that really wants to nurture the environment, the natural habitat that we have.

Ecology and nature are recurring themes in your work, both in your video art as well as in your documentary work. Have you always been drawn to nature or was there a moment in your life when that interest was sparked?  

I think it’s always been there. I liked gardening growing up and I used to help my Dad out in the garden. Like I said before, I also liked watching the canal, watching the clouds, that sort of thing. So, it’s always been there and it’s really just an extension of my personal life.

Like most people, feel my best when I am out in nature, out in the fresh air, in the forest, especially when it comes to water.

Employees of community-focused waste management and recycling company, WeCyclers, where women make up 60% of the workforce.
Logger, Egbontoluwa Marigi, paddles his logs out from the forest bed into a river in preparation for transportation from Ipare, Ondo State to Ebute-Meta, Lagos state.

While going through your website, I came across another project you documented, it’s “Wecyclers”. Would you mind talking a bit more about it?

So, “Wecyclers” is a company that is run by a brother and sister pair- it was established by the sister in the first place- and what they do is that they push recycling in a way that is favourable for the community around there. So, they run a program where the members of the communities are the ones who go out to pick up the recyclable material and then handle that to them. In exchange, these people either get paid or they can build up points that they can eventually redeem to get household items like a sewing machine or maybe a pressing iron, that sort of things. The interesting thing about them is that their workforce is 60% women, so the people sorting and cleaning all the recyclable, that’s all women.

Talking about women, I wanted to ask you if you have ever felt any kind of discrimination because of being a female photographer and the other way around, if you have had situations where you felt that being a woman has made the work easier for you?

Someone asked me this question recently and to be honest, when I’m working I don’t think about my sex or gender. When I’m approaching a person or if I’m going to a specific neighbourhood or area to work, I’m not thinking, oh I’m going there as a woman. I’m going there as a photographer- whether I’m a woman, whether I’m a man, it doesn’t matter. I’m a photographer and that is it. I’ve had situations where I’ve had problems with photographing- not necessarily because I’m a woman but just people being unfriendly I would say. I’ve had many situations as well where people have been very friendly to me as well. So for me it’s been a matter of approach- the way you approach people, the respect, especially here in Lagos (laughs). People in Lagos here, there is a manner in which you approach them. I’m not saying that these problems don’t exist but I pay a lot of attention to the way that I approach people and for me, once I’m working it’s blank canvas. I’m a photographer, I’m a videographer, I’m an artist and that is it. There’s no female or male to it for me.

When I’m working I don’t think about my sex or gender. I’m going there as a photographer- whether I’m a woman, whether I’m a man, it doesn’t matter. I’m a photographer and that is it.

Nyancho NwaNri

One thing that I could mention about being a woman, though, is that maybe if I go to a certain place to work and I have to climb up a tower or something like that, everybody is like, “Hey, are you sure you can do it?” And then, when I finally get up there, they are like, “Oh really, you can do that? Wow!” I mean really… you think I can’t climb up a tower or climb up a bus to take a picture because I’m a woman? (laughs) Those have been most of the challenges, perhaps I wouldn’t even call it a challenge…. rather just people with that stereotype in their mind that because you’re a woman you’re not going to get on top of somewhere or through a crowd to get a shot. Or they might think that you can’t stand certain situations. But most times, I end up doing what I want to do anyway (laughs).

Another question I had was how you know or decide that a picture is good ?

The truth is, I don’t know really. For me it’s really about the feeling, about whatever I have in my mind. Do I get the feeling that I’ve captured what was in my mind, that I’ve captured what I wanted to capture? Does it really say what I want to say? And beyond that, I would look at the picture in technical terms- is the composition of the image good, are all the elements falling into place? But most importantly, it’s more about being able to capture what I have in my mind.

With the “Gedu” story, for example, we see this main character slugging it out in the forest with an axe, but then there’s another tender side in him, he’s a father, he has children, he’s old but still has dreams about his life, and he’s very conscious about providing for his family. That’s also a side of him that I wanted to see and capture. There were situations where we made an appointment for seven o’clock and I would get there at 6:50 and he’d already be gone. Then I’d find him and he’d be like, “you know, I have to provide for my family, I can’t just be at home.” So for me the question is, how do I capture this?

I don’t really think in terms of good & bad when it comes to an image. What I think about is if it captures what I want to say and if whoever is going to see the image will be able to connect with it.

Nyancho NwaNri

Do you actually go with the idea of what you want to say to place or do you only know what you want to say once you get to know the people in the place?

I go with an idea of questions to ask, but it mostly ends up becoming a conversation because when they answer the questions you hear something that brings up another question in your mind and then they say something else. Or you just sit there and watch and you see certain things and think, oh, let me ask more about this, let me try to find this out, let me follow them to this place. In the end, spontaneity takes over from the things that you had prepared before.

What are you currently working on or is there any upcoming project in 2023 that you’d like to talk about?

I really want to focus on creation this year. I have a project in the works on culture and the role of culture in cementing identity, not just personal but communal identity. The role of culture as a sort of opposition to colonisation- how culture was used as a tool to resist the oppression and domination of colonisation on the African continent. I’m going to travel to Cape Verde, to Praia, to do research on this project for about 6 months. I already went in 2022 and started working on the idea and the concept.

Any advice you’d like to share with fellow artists?

I think if I’m to advice anything, that would be really what I said about living. Sometimes we get so concerned about creating- and not just creating, but creating what we think that people or the art world want to see and what might sell-  but I would say, maybe we should turn our focus to spending more time to really delving into ourselves and living.

Let’s take time to experience and create for ourselves, not for anything or anyone else.

Nyancho would like to recommend the following artists:

Ama BE (Ghana/USA): Ama is a transdisciplinary artist exploring African relationships to land, labour and migration. She works mainly with botanical materials creating, performance, screen-based and digital media pieces. I find her work, her thinking and her process very profound. ( / @amabefree)

Gilda Barros (Cape Verde): Gilda is a visual artist whose work focuses on womanhood, the female condition, female empowerment. She engages in a lot of community involved projects often creating works in public spaces and is largely driven by her experiences and reality as a woman, as well as the experiences of women in her community and country at large. (@gilda_s.barros)

Simone Spencer (Cape Verde): Simone is a visual and tactile artist based in Praia. Her work explores various social themes as well as the issue of colonialism. She uses her work to open up safe spaces for dialogue around these issues. (@missmonispencer)

Nyancho NwaNri
Get in touch
with Nyancho:
Instagram: nyancho_nwanri

All Photographs courtesy of
Nyancho NwaNri
Written & interviewed by Nina Seidel

Edited by Nyancho NwaNri & Nina Seidel

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