“Contrast, characters, dark humour, forms, shapes, awkward gestures and actions interest me,” says Noma Osula. In his portraits, the Nigerian photographer punctures the staid conventions of portraiture with playful gestures. A man, hands folded formally on his lap, blows a chewing-gum bubble; a woman, resplendent in a jade-green dress and doused in a painterly light, sucks on a red lollipop. At just 25, Osula’s sharp eye for colour and atmosphere already makes for a distinctly offbeat aesthetic.
Using his vision to counter mainstream narratives has been an important drive for Osula, and a crucial part of his development as an artist. “First, it was changing the narrative of the so-called ‘Africa stigma’, then embracing imperfection, just like the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi,” he explains. “This projection of Africa as a completely dark and primitive continent, as well as what we represent, is obviously incomplete and inaccurate.”
Osula also draws heavily on the energy of his current locale, Lagos, and his “love-loathe relationship” with the chaotic, vibrant city. “Sometimes the actions, weird gestures, colours and environment seem surreal. There is no way these wouldn’t sneak into your work,” he explains.
With several exhibitions under his belt, Osula recently joined the talent roster at AWCA, a Lagos-based agency that strives to “create narratives for a new vision of contemporary Africa”, where he has worked on commissions for brands such as JZO, Maliko and Shekudo. It is within these flexible realms of fashion and portraiture that his work has evolved, unravelling through a synthesis of elements that feed into the final image: from set design and props to clothes, wigs and make-up. Sometimes starting as sketches – Osula also paints and draws – the scenes acted out by his collaborators are enigmatic, evocative of a mood or atmosphere rather than an explicit narrative.
Osula’s sitters are what he describes as “subversive”, chosen to defy conventional standards of beauty and play out the many facets of their characters. In the personal series Bambi, the photographer was inspired by the private performance that takes place in front of a mirror when getting ready to go out. “Bambi is a fictional character who seems to be her own party. She is dressed up to go nowhere. It’s almost like she is trying to impress herself,” he says.
“Most times people seem to be scrolling through their thoughts and examining themselves. At that moment there is a brief, intimate isolation and reflection going on.”
Read BJP’s interview with AWCA Creatives here https://www.1854.photography/2018/03/awcalagos/