“Transcending the wonders and vagaries of the present while imagining a future based on dreams and activism.” This is what Nigerian Daniel Obasi aspires to when he seizes his goal, he tells us on the phone from Lagos, where he lives. 27-year-old fashion photographer and stylist, Daniel Obasi is part of the photographic current that the American art critic Antwaun Sargent calls “The New Black Vanguard”. The new black vanguard? A battalion of millennial photographers (aged 25 to 35), who for several years have been placing their pictures in the most prestigious glossy magazines, vogue at Harper’s Bazaar. Their common point: they review and resituate the image of the black body in fashion, with a focus that is both artistic and militant. Among them, the African-American Tyler Mitchell (who photographed Beyoncé for vogue in 2018, at only 23 years old), the Nigerian-British Nadine Ijewere, the Swiss-Guinean Namsa Leuba and, therefore, Daniel Obasi.
Louis Vuitton editions called on him for a new book (1), Lagos – Beautiful Resistance, dedicated to his work in this sprawling Nigerian megalopolis. The book is part of the collection of travel books Fashion Eye, where fashion photographers – veterans as well as young shoots – are invited to offer their view of a place. Here, we dive into the urban whirlwind of Lagos via Daniel Obasi’s vision of fashion. It is based on fantasy (vaporous outfits, aerial movements, pensive or fleeting looks), surrealism (unusual make-up, shimmering colored wigs, masks, traditional costumes), science fiction (cosmonaut helmets, futuristic hairstyles) activism and freedom (the nude, the Nigerian flag, socio-political emblems, firearms). “Fashion is an opportunity to be able to say who you are and who you want to be without any cultural or social constraints”enthuses the photographer who has already officiated for US Vogue, Vogue Portugal, Vogue Italy, Nataal Where Dazed as a photographer, and for Marie-Claire Brazil as a stylist.
Nigeria is the Mecca of West African entertainment, with its film industry (Nollywood), music (kingdom of afrobeats) but also with its effervescence on the ready-to-wear side – Lagos Fashion Week is one of the events of the most popular fashions in sub-Saharan Africa. Lagos, the economic heart of the country, is a pool of talent that feeds a booming industry. It was in 2014 that Daniel Obasi, born in Aba, a city in southeastern Nigeria, met designer Funmi Fagbemi by chance on the campus of the University of Lagos, where he was studying French literature. He became his assistant, multiplied encounters – from designers to celebrities – and ended up going it alone as a stylist, in 2017, before starting to play photographers and write a few fashion columns for the Fashion Business Africa site.
Five years later, here is his work compiled in a first book. “Through the convictions that animate and the poetry that infuses his work, Daniel Obasi seemed to us more than ad hoc to paint a portrait as unique as it is unexpected of this Nigerian city”we explain to Louis Vuitton editions. “I try to connect my dreams to the realities of Nigerian society, the issues and promises of Lagos”, continues the young photographer. For him, Lagos is an uninterrupted bubbling, an urban maelstrom – between buildings, market squares and neighborhoods resembling ghettos. Lagos is also about violence, music, history, arts, “tradi-modernity” and a multitude of faces.
Daniel Obasi’s man plays as much with kalashes as with make-up, adorns himself with jewelry, schoolgirl skirts, candy pink outfits… “I like to bear witness, through my stagings and photos, to the beauty of all sexualities. For me, it is a vector of power, just like spirituality”. The woman sometimes seems hermaphrodite, coming from another galaxy… She has blue or purple skin, her lips made up with an almost unreal red. In other shots, it almost looks like a golden-skinned goddess or some kind of supernatural creature with a Christlike aura. Other times, she is the matriarch in boubou, impassive in the face of the pangs of everyday life. The one who, last March, photographed the star Burna Boy for Rolling Stone UK concludes: “Fashion is becoming a new space that allows us, young black, African or other photographers, to feed this means of expression with other narratives and to capture other experiences.”
(1) Lagos, Daniel Obasi, Louis Vuitton editions, Fashion Eye collection, 2022