I wonder what people think when it comes to their local Barbers or hairdressers? Black barbershops are not often seen as a culture of their own. Nevertheless American films have stereotyped them as no holds barred locations where men chatter about everything from current events, politics, sports, culture and women. Much of the British audience will be familiar with Desmond’s TV show (an old Channel 4 TV show in the U.K) whilst French movies such as ‘Fatou La Malienne’ illustrate the cultural aspects of Africans wishing to work at salons abroad.
I was with Andrew Esiebo at the Tiwani Contemporary (one of the UK’s leading Contemporary African Arts Gallery) drawing inspiration both from the Gallery and the Artist. The barbers is a place where the Nigerian Artist and Photographer has explored the surroundings, cultures and lifestyles of barbers and their shops across eight west African countries. Esiebo’s work was launched on Thursday January 9th at the Gallery premises off Oxford Circus in Central London.
“I had a deep desire to focus on cities, the Monrovia experience was pretty funny – not because of the city but I forgot that the country was not part of ECOWAS so there were slight delays before I could enter; but this aside the four month travelling journey was enjoyable.”
Whilst it is clear that African Art is gradually gaining recognition in Brussels and Paris; the same can certainly be said of West African Art in London. The gallery brought together many smiles and thoughtful ponders on the Artist’s captivating work. What makes Tiwani Contemporary special is the fact that they are a Gallery dedicated to showcasing emerging contemporary arts coming directly out of the continent. This is a fresh and innovative approach from the gallery bearing in mind much of the European African Art industry is dominated by historical artefacts, sculpture and pre-colonial artwork. This passion was shared with the Gallery Director, Maria Varanava.
“What makes us [Tiwani Contemporary] unique is that our Curatorial Programme comes directly from the continent as we work directly with the Centre of Contemporary Arts in Lagos and Bisi Silva who is our advisor. Contemporary African Arts is important as it showcases the creative elements of African Painting, sculpture, metal art, gun art, photography, installation art, contemporary textiles recycled art, printmaking and mixed media for an audience of today.”
Maria Varnava, Tiwani Contemporary Director,
The photography that was exhibited on the night displayed icons, religious images, pictures of hip-hop artists, posters of soccer teams and icons of global black culture. It is clear from the night that Esiebo is a vibrant and dynamic photographer within Nigeria’s contemporary photography network; one who has an admirable ability to investigate, bring to light and tell stories about the minor realities of contemporary African life – hence why I caught up with him.
“Barbing is something a lot of African men do when migrating to move abroad, but after being inspired by a conversation I had with a man – I decided to venture throughout west Africa and depict how is profession is shared and differs from state to state. The barbershop is an intimate space where people come to discuss what they cannot speak about in their homes or in public, including politics and even their lovers,” said Andrew Esiebo, who has photographed scores of West African barbershops. “It’s one of the few spaces where people from different walks of life, from different classes, mix.”
Esiebo went on to meet hairdressers and barbers of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Mauritania. Through them, he entered their world of the African male identity which is wrapped between posters footballers, movie stars and jars of shaving cream. It became a story about the most popular styles in the big cities and the personal stories of hairdressers.
The exhibition, titled Pride runs from January 10 – February 8 this year and is a photographic investigation of the relationship between hairstyles as well as individual and collective identities at the Gallery. Esiebo, born in Lagos, Nigeria focuses on integrating multimedia practice with the contemporary African lifestyles of sexuality, gender politics, popular culture, migration, religion and spirituality.