Sunday 16 March 2014

At Battle Scars, sympathisers' lenses shoot down breast cancer

By Tajudeen Sowole

When a health subject of terminal scale as breast cancer found its way into the lenses of five women photographers as seen during the opening of the exhibition, Battle Scars at Goethe Institut, Lagos Island, photography skills struggle for attention.

One of the exhibited images by Zemaye Okediji
The emotive emissions from the images of the exhibiting photo artists, Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, Damilola Kuku, Bisola Ijalana, Koleosho Kikelomo, Jokotade Shonowo, Yemi Disu and Zemaye Okediji appear too weighty for technique and styles of the photographers to assert the essence of a photography exhibition. And how did Battle Scars force photography into such a state of submissiveness? Breast cancer is perhaps the fastest killer of all women-related health challenges.  In fact, breast cancer, according to statistics, accounts for about 26 percent of all cancers-related issues. With such statistics of shivering dimension, hardly would there be enough photography skill to sway attention from the suffering of victims - no matter how hidden – to the beauty of photo imaging.  

An initiative of Camara Studios and featuring works of X-Perspective photographers, Battle Scars, an ongoing show is supported by 1K4Cancer, Sebeccly Cancer Care Foundation and Goethe-Institut Lagos. The organisers said the exhibition “is a charity”: event aimed at giving proceeds from the sales of the exhibits, including the postcards prints, to support the treatment of patients who are on the waiting list of the Sebeccly Cancer Care Foundation.

At the immediate entrance of the Goethe Institut's improvised gallery space, two of the works by Aiyeni-Babaeko summarise a most likely world of victims of breast cancers. In The Beauty Never Lost, the sufferer is still bold enough to flaunt her beautiful face in a modeling-like pose enhanced a sun hat. As much as Ayeni-Babaeko attempts to add her modeling photography experience to liven up the image, the missing part of the left torso evokes sympathy. Next comes tears-jerker in Tick Tick, a long shot capture of a patient in her room. Hovering inside her apparent expansive room is the race that every breast cancer patient has against time.

  For Disu's images of an elderly woman, the pains, over the decades, are not missing in the weakened eyebrows and swollen hands hidden by the silhouette lighting technique. Disu recalled the courage of her subject to offer herself for the shoot despite resistance from the family, "She has five children, all adults, but she insisted in making her self available to be photographed against the advice of the family." And when she was ready, the photographer took over the emotive moment. "It was a difficult and emotional shoot for me," Disu disclosed as she explained the scenario of a picture in which her subject's husband poses with his wife. Against a semi-silhouette lighting, the couple images explain the bond of love that has kept them going through decades of horrifying breast cancer.

Kuku, who is one of the youngest photographers in the project, recalled her closest experience of a sufferer who later died. "That was long time ago. But now that I am involved in a breast cancer project, I can also feel the pains that patients go through." Kuku's past knowledge of breast cancer included myths such as "cancer is caused by juju or witchcrafts." But her subject in the Battle Scars project seems to have none of that, so suggests the colour picture of a women with masked face, in ecstatic pose, displaying the full and vanished sides and the breasts. 

In fact the awareness against linking breast cancer with unproven beliefs such as witchcraft and myths of some native origins was among the core issues that inspired the exhibition, the director of Camara Studios and convener of the project, Aiyeni-Babaeko told guests during the opening. 

  In battling the scars, the place of spirituality cannot be completely ruled out, at least from the faith perspective, so suggests one of Aiyeni Babaeko's works. It's a twin-photograph of a victim in hijab and holding the Islamic tesbih (rosary) and in apparent reliance on her Creator for succor.
  In Nigeria, inadequate diagnosis facilities and treatment have been identified as factors in reducing the increasing deaths caused by breast cancers.
The tense hospital atmosphere during treatment of breast cancer is not excluded from the works on display. Timing of drips being administered by a doctor is captured and placed just above the praying victim earlier mentioned; quite a good curatorial score.

As a medium in creating more awareness among women and draw public sympathy in the fight against breast cancer, as well as create early detection alert, Battle Scar, as initiated by Aiyeni-Babaeko is a great concept. And as a photography exhibition, the photo artists, to a large extent force their way through the emotional subject at hand to render a balance works of art within the glaring unavoidable confines of the lens.

  However, Shonowo's high key lighting shot that blackens the supposedly missing breast of a victim and highlights the full side, offers a balance of photography skill and sympathy expressions.
 Courtesy of Sebeccly, and in the past two years, the photographers have been linked with members of the breast cancer support group in order to provide an insight into the challenges faced by cancer survivors. According to the organisers, Goethe Institut and Camara Studios, breast cancer "is the most common cancer and a leading cause of death among women in Nigeria." The Battle Scars show is also to create awareness for alert on the symptom and  "early diagnosis." With intensive campaign,  "more women”, they hoped, “can survive breast cancer by having prompt treatment."
  Derin Ajao of Goethe Institut noted that the exhibition’s opening on the International Women's Day "is no coincidence' as the challenges facing women across the world can be reduced with awareness such as the Battle Scars.

During the Battle Scars photography exhibition
A partner in the project, Sebeccly was worried about the stigma still associated with breast cancer in Nigeria, and Africa in general.. Referencing what is globally known as Target 5 of the World Cancer Declaration – fight against stigma and dispelling the damaging myths and misconceptions - Sebeccly Cancer Care Foundation re-assured the public of its “belief in raising the awareness profile of cancer survivorship and reducing the stigma associated with cancer in Nigeria.”

   The foundation noted “the persistent high death rates caused by breast cancer” and insisted that “it is important to create awareness, advocate for better cancer care, raise funds to support cancer treatment and strengthen cancer care institutions.”
  On the photography exhibition as a strong medium in the awareness drive, Sebeccly was sure that “the public will be inspired to join us in the fight against cancer, to understand how cancer affects us all and take steps in reducing the Nigerian cancer burden.

  “This first-of-a-kind photography exhibition will tell stories of cancer survivors, their challenges and coping strategies. Highlights of the exhibition are breast awareness information and breast examination.” 

 For Ayeni-Babaeko, Battle Scars is another score in her feminist-agenda. Having embarked on a lone ranger mission in lifting the cause of women when she started a photography empowerment project for young enthusiasts in 2009, Ayeni-Babaeko has been using Camara Studios to groom female photographers.

And when she exhibited 12 young female photographers in 2011 Goethe Institut was her partner. .Her efforts have given birth to the The X-Perspective female photographers.

 Ayeni-Babaeko had shown in group exhibitions such as A Perspective on Contemporary Nigerian Photography, regarded as the largest gathering of Nigerian photographers in recent time. The show, which featured 20 artists, held at the Omenka Gallery, Lagos Island, in 2009.

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