Friday 16 November 2012

Of folktales, modernity in Ayeni-Babaeko’s Itan

By Tajudeen Sowole
From a childhood filled with literatures of the Greek and German fairy tales, photographer Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko grew up to relish her passion in African mythologies.

And like story telling from which she drew her inspiration over the decades, Ayeni-Babaeko, a modeling photo-artist, is currently interpreting some African mythologies and contemporary themes in a body of work titled Itan, currently showing till November 24, 2012 at The Porsche, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Acted and shot in studio, the interpretations feature characters such as Mami Water, Osun and others that may not be so known. Although in the visual arts space where every work hardly escapes the radar of critique, Itan seems to have taken a cover in the choice of themes: mythology and folk tales.

She has exploited the freedom of non-confined interpretations of the characters to a greater extent, and also created her own versions of the deities. For example, Mami Water widely rendered as a woman with a body of partly fish and human, is composed differently by Ayeni-Babeko. Her version is a full human, a lady with brief costumes and holding a snake. The snake, the photo-artist argued, “symbolizes” the strength of the mermaid. As a piece of photograph and post-treated in the computer, Mami Water, (C-Print on Di-Bond, 20 x 30 in.) like all the works on display, passes for an art and adds to the many versions of the images of mermaids already established.

Still expressing her freedom or license to create and re-create, Ayeni-Babaeko takes her lens into the Osun waters, depicting the goddess in what could be contentious. How much of research did she carry out to arrive at her interpretations rendered in Osun Goddess I and II? “It’s my narrative; as an artist I have the right to manipulate.” 

Irrespective of the issue her works may raise, the artist’s identity as a modeling and studio photographer, who hardly works daylight, remains paramount.
Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, with some of her works during the opening of the exhibition Itan
It may be too late for Nigerian modernity to begin to suspect photography as a part of the art genres, particularly when Jonathan Adagogo Green had records of good works. However, the ability of every individual artist, particularly of the new generation, to truly raise their game to the state of art and add to the strength of photography, something the older masters have given the genre in Nigeria. For Ayeni-Babaeko, the great piece of art in Itan comes in The Pretty Stranger Who Killed the King-I: the costumes, props and lighting, perhaps some photo-shop works to achieve SFX, completes a masterpiece in modeling photography as an art. In a series of three, the first, indeed, propels the other two, which lack the depth rendered in The Pretty Stranger Who Killed the King-I.

Quite significant is her choice of venue, where the works are mounted on dropping strings and almost lost inside the huge auto sales garage of The Porsche on Akin Adesola Street. It took a few minutes for one’s vision to adjust and appreciate the blend of class in the photographer’s works with the glittering state-of-the-art cars surrounding the works on display. Indeed, the black and white works of Ayeni-Babaeko appear better suited in the conservative colour-dominated space of The Porsche.

Producing her work in black and white, perhaps, takes focus from the entertainment value and draws more attention to the content. And more importantly, the black and white or monochrome, she argued, makes her work ‘timeless’.

Although just about seven years old in photography, she is fortunate to experience the pre-digital era, and noted that despite such wide scopes as photoshop and other soft wares application, “the creativity still counts”.

As an investment in the future of photography, she said she was sharing her experience by giving 12 female photography enthusiasts at the Goethe Institut, Lagos City Hall, tutorial last year. It was a four-week event, which had professionals such as Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Lolade Cameron Cole and Leke Adenuga as resource persons.

Born in Enugu and later moving to Germany where she encounted photography, Ayeni-Babaeko had her apprenticeship from 2000 to 2003 at Studio Be in Greven, Germany. In 2004 she took further study in art and design at Macro-media, Osnabrueck, Germany.
Mami-Water, one of Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko’s works from Itan exhibition.

She returned to Nigeria in 2005 and in 2007 set up Camara Studio in Ikeja, Lagos, which is currently her major platform.

Basically, her message on the mythological themes in Itan is about tapping from the past. She urged viewers to take another look at folktales and perhaps learn from them, saying, “It’s true that we go to church, but there is a part of you that you cannot deny; something in you that is hiding, that you were brought up with, but within the hustle and bustle of Lagos, it went into the background”.

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