Saturday 3 January 2015

'Eko Moves' through dance, lens of Aiyeni-Babaeko

  By Tajudeen Sowole
 WHEN photography brings contemporary dance into Lagos streets in an unusual mix, the photographer, Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko creates a competitive narration between medium and theme. As a body of work currently on display as Eko Moves at The Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, the coalition of contemporary ballet dance and notorious spots on the streets of Lagos, stress the odd mix of the city.

 The word, Eko, being the original and native Yoruba name for Lagos, has been surfacing in indigenous idioms of the people across generations. It most often glorifies the cosmopolitan nature of the city. Sub-consciously, most users of Yoruba language are at home with the name, Eko, rather than Lagos. The most popular slogan Eko o ni baje (may Lagos never disorganise), authored by the current governor, Babatunde Fashola, asserts the sacrosanct nature of Eko among Yoruba.

                                     One of her works, Sandfill Area 1

For Aiyeni-Babaeko, the mobility of the state is, perhaps, best expressed in the rare incendiary images she has captured, using dance as a subject. Sponsored by Deutsche Bank, the Wheatbaker and Ruinart, Eko Moves, indeed, has a theme that complements the status of the state, as having one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. 

More importantly, lovers of ballet and other forms of dance would appreciate the skills involved better as the photographer's stills expose the depth of theatrical gymnastics of the dancers. But the real star of Eko Moves is the dance as supplied by two members of The Society for the Performing Arts in Nigeria (SPAN).

From locations such as Sandfill, Lekki to Idumota and other parts of the Lagos Central Business District, as well as the filthy habitation on the mainland and bus stations, the two dancers, in mostly solo shots, bring live entertainment to the hosts communities.

In a silhouette, sunset shot Sandfill Area 1, the elevation of the male dancer, which is frozen in mid-air by Ayeni-Babaeko's lens reminds the viewer of the still pictures in some of the great martial art movies from Hong Kong.

From Yetunde Aiyeni-BabaekoBroad Street Blues 
On a skyline of emerging high-rise buildings at Lekki, the reflection of the sun against the lens is bounced back into a diffused background, creating stunt performance from a mere dance. Similar stunt-capture comes in a crowded market scene titled, Balogun Market.
  In technical terms, the speed of digital camera gives modern and contemporary photographers easy way out in capturing fast actions such as dance and sporting activities. Despite the flexibility offer by technology, Aiyeni-Babaeko takes her subjects through extra efforts to get the best. "I get the dancers to perform for one shot over and over until I get what I want," she discloses during a preview.

The results are marvelous such that the retakes were worth all the efforts of the dancers. Ukalina, the female dancer enthuses over what she describes as dance like never before. She argues that it goes beyond dance as a form of entertainment, "but comes with a message."

A modeling and advertising photographer, Ayeni-Babaeko appears not submissive completely to the digital age. Really, could she have taken the stunt picture 15 or more years ago. "Yes, even with less high speed camera: several takes would have done it."

Among the surreal-like composite of the images comes in the odd mix of a lady ballet or cabaret dancer sandwiched by two junk carriers on Broad Street, an area known as the heart of Lagos central business district and just few minutes walk from the Nigerian Stock Exchange building on Custom Street. Titled Broad Street Blues, the picture exposes free movements of people, even in areas they have no business, so suggest the work as a glowing snow white costume of the dancer makes a great contrast with the filthiness of the two men carrying junks. The complexity of cosmopolitan Lagos is such that stupendous wealth and poverty are neighbours.

"Off Broad Street, you see life of poverty stricken people," the photographer explains how the two men feature in the composite.
  The collaboration between Aiyeni-Babaeko and SPAN, according to the curator, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, is aimed at providing training and better life for youths interested in dancing. She added, "It's about interpreting life".

Two years ago, Ayeni-Babaeko has stumbled on the idea of bringing dance out of the stage and studio onto the streets when she set out in search of dance tutors for her children. And after meeting members of SPAN, the need to implore dance and photography as a collaborative project expanded into broader vision.

Beyond her fashion and advertising photography specialty, Ayeni-Babaeko keeps exploring other areas, stressing the narrative value of images. For example, in her previous solo show titled Itan two years ago, it interprets some African mythologies and contemporary themes.

However, Eko Moves takes the photographer from an identity of monochrome into what may be a sudden shift into colour photography. Her past exhibitions have been mostly rendered in black and white. Non-colour choice of her work, she had argued, was aimed at making the pictures timeless.

Ayeni-Babaeko has featured in a group show, A Perspective on Contemporary Nigerian Photography, regarded as the largest gathering of Nigerian photographers in recent time at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, in 2009. From 2000 to 2003, she studied photography at Studio Be in Greven, Germany. She majored in Advertising Photography and worked for a year before returning to Nigeria.

Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko 
SPAN is 10-year old non-profit which has developed an impressive track record for training dancers of all ages in different forms of creativity, from classical ballet to African dance, ballroom, salsa and hip hop. SPAN is using income from dance classes taught at private, well-endowed schools to build a community center in Lagos Island, which will offer free dance classes to some of the poorest areas of this sprawling metropolis. Part of the proceeds of this exhibition will support SPAN’s work.

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