Photographer Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko spotlights Albinism with ‘White Ebony’

Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko (The Guardian Nigeria)
Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko (The Guardian Nigeria)

An exhibition of 20 photographs by the social activist photographer, Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, which captures the complexity of life that Persons with Albinism (PWAs) face daily will open to the public on May 25.

The exhibition, presented by SMO Contemporary Art and Temple Muse, is held to commemorate the International Albinism Awareness Day, which comes up on June 13 every year.

It will be showcased at Temple Muse in Victoria Island, Lagos, for the next six weeks to support the recognition and protection of people with albinism.

White Ebony challenges preconceived notions on albinism with powerful images which reflect a Renaissance beauty through sensitive lighting, composition, and layered stylistic interpretations, the organisers said.

It takes the viewer on an emotional journey that is filled with nuance as well as controversial in its stark positioning and challenging suggestions.

Each work reflects both internal struggles while working through layers of identity and self-actualisation, and points to the urgent need to stop the stigmatisation of persons with albinism.

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-Babeko worked closely with members of The Albino Foundation in Lagos and after in-depth interviews and insightful group discussions, 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.

“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,” said Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, the exhibition curator and expert in development communications, who has worked on three previous shows with the photographer.

Ayeni-Babaeko, while presenting White Ebony, said it was easy to create a striking image of a person with albinism because of how unique they are.


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“But these models were not just put in front of my camera for me to photograph,” said the photographer, who is of Nigerian-German parentage.

“I was able to really connect with them through long conversations about their daily struggles, sharing with me what their life is like and all this knowledge translated into this new body Mr f work.

“My work is not there to make you feel good, its purpose is to trigger you to think and expand your knowledge.”

Jake Epelle, the Founder and President of the Albino Foundation, said working with a photographer like Ayeni-Babaeko had been a great creative approach to raising awareness about the challenges people with albinism face every day.

“Much more needs to be done to advocate for the recognition and respect of the rights and socio-economic inclusion of people living with albinism,” he said.

“The Foundation works with governments and development institutions to improve the health and social wellbeing of PWAs in Nigeria.”

Andrew Skipper, Board Member of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C., said Hogan Lovells, an international law firm, is committed to supporting important social causes.

“We believe that art is a beautiful way of raising awareness and celebrating diversity and inclusion. An exhibition like ‘White Ebony’ by Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko is testament to the way art helps to strengthen society,” said Mr Skipper, Partner & Head of Africa Practice at Hogan Lovells, which sponsored the exhibition.

Avinash Wadhwani, CEO of Temple Muse, a design luxury concept store, described Ayeni-Babaeko’s works as a powerful example of art for social change.

White Ebony runs from May 25 until July 19, and a portion of the income from sales will go towards supporting people with albinism.


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