What is your inspiration? This must be one of the most popular questions asked of any creative as we, the consumer, strive to understand their art. The global climate we inhabit may have in no small way led photographer Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko to her latest project “White Ebony”.
White Ebony is a collection of twenty-one stunning portraits of Persons with Albinism on show at Temple Muse.
At first glance the portraits are undoubtably beautiful, dramatically lit, composed and edited in a manner that recalls the works of the old masters of the Baroque period. As with her previous works however Ayeni-Babaeko’s art asks you too look deeper, to follow her on an emotional journey, to understand the complexity of identity, self-actualisation and the internal struggles of her subjects.
According to the United Nations, “people with albinism face multiple forms of discrimination worldwide. Albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically. The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalization and social exclusion.”
Ayeni-Babaeko, worked closely with members of The Albino Foundation in Lagos. After in-depth interviews, insightful group discussions and gaining the trust of her subjects she began interpreting their reality through photographs which explore both the alienation and struggles experienced by persons with albinism, as well as celebrates their lives and achievements.
The work is truly at the intersection of art and social justice. “It’s easy to create a striking image of a person with albinism because of how unique they are” says Ayeni-Babaeko, indeed the finished products resonate with empathy, power, beauty and depth. At the same time however she concludes “My work is not there to make you feel good, its purpose is to trigger you to think and expand your knowledge.”
Sometimes the origin story for a piece of art is just as complex and interesting as the finished works themselves. In the case of “The girl with the blue scarf” the subject came to the studio wearing her blue scarf and inadvertently, by channelling Johannes Vermeer’s painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” inspired Ayeni-Babaeko to draw inspiration from the great European works of art for the rest of the project.
“Swinging through life” the most technically sophisticated portrait on display, has the mood of the great impressionist Edgar Degas, with the lighting and the dancer and movement.
Finally, at the opposite end of the spectrum, is the portrait that was completed in ten minutes with no make up artist and a mother simply dressed in her own beautiful dress and head scarf clutching her precious children, her pride on display for all to see in “Mother with Daughters”.
This is the third collaboration between the artist and SMO Contemporary Art. Exhibition curator Sandra Mbanefo Obiago a foremost supporter of the “Art for Change “ movement added “As in her previous exhibitions, which have tackled issues such as the challenges survivors of breast cancer face, or photographing dancers performing within slums to highlight the needs of populations living in shantytowns, Ayeni-Babaeko’s amazing artistry is heightened by her commitment to social change and supporting marginalized communities,”
The project is further supported by International law firm Hogan Lovells who are committed to supporting important social issues.
White Ebony runs at Temple Muse from May 25th until July 19th, and a portion of the income from sales will go towards supporting people with albinism.