UCL Anthropology


Naluwembe Binaisa

Research Synopsis and Progress

My research seeks to explore what photographs can help us to understand about the intersections between political imaginaries, self-representations, identity and power in Nigeria. I conducted ethnographic fieldwork for 14 months between 2017 and 2018 geographically focusing on three contrasting spaces. Firstly, the ancient city of Ila Orangun, Osun State famous in the art history of photography as the site of the seminal paper Yoruba photography: how the Yoruba see themselves written by Stephen Sprague. Secondly, Ilé-Ifè also in Osun State, considered the cradle and source of the Yoruba people and their guiding cosmology. Thirdly, in Lagos, the largest urban centre and most cosmopolitan city in Nigeria’s federation where I have previously conducted fieldwork in 2014. I also carried out fieldwork in two important archives: The Ransome-Kuti Archive in the Special Collections of the University of Ibadan, and the Archives of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Photography plays a significant role in the nature of Nigeria’s politics of identity, governance and human rights in a history chequered by conflict. My research focuses on popular photographs found in the intimate spaces of personal archives and photography in the public sphere in the built environment, traditional and digital media, by practitioners whose practice touches on issues of social justice and re-visioning social space. What is emerging in my analysis are two alternating rhythms. On one pole is an enduring ‘communal aesthetic’ that runs through photography to reflect an alternative cosmology rooted in ancient ways of seeing and ways of being. On the other pole is an ‘aesthetics of erasure’ where the ‘failed promise’ of the colonial encounter and governance structures that frustrate the aspirations of citizens, are revealed in silenced narratives of conflict and injustice. Emerging themes include:

  • Rights and responsibilities: personhood and aesthetics
  • Heritage and inheritance: architectures of freedom
  • Passport photographers, ‘wait and get’ photography: who do you think you are?
  • Social media/social justice: the case of the missing photographs

In this hopeful yet adversarial environment that pits brother against brother, sister against sister, my research seeks to critically explore these intersections of photography, political imaginaries, power and identity in Nigeria. My sincere thanks and appreciation go to the photographers, artists and communities of Ila Orangun, Lagos and Ilé-Ifè who participated in the research. Sincere thanks also go to Obafemi Awolowo University who hosted my research fellowship, the Ransome-Kuti Archive at the University of Ibadan and the Obasanjo Olusegun Presidential Library Archives.

Dissemination Activities:

Convening Panel (forthcoming): European African Studies Conference ECAS 2019: Africa: Connections and Disruptions. June 11-14 June 2019, University of Edinburgh Materiality and Spirit: Exploring visuality, spirit and power in urban Africa

Two lectures: City University New York (CUNY), Brooklyn College. Political Science Department, 5-6 December 2018: Visuality, representations and claims-making in Nigeria

Paper: African Studies Association 61st Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, November 29 – December 3 2018. 'Lagos is Another London!': Fragmented Futurity, Self-Representations within the Struggle for the City 

Workshop: University of Michigan, Department of Anthropology and Afroamerican and African Studies. The Filmic and the Photographic Workshop in African Visual Cultures, 24-29 November 2018

Exhibition and Lecture: ‘The Photographs Are Always Speaking: Exploring Rights, Power and Identity’, 6 November 2018, Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Exhibition: ‘The Photographs Are Always Speaking: Exploring Rights, Power and Identity’, 11-23 October 2018, Omenka Gallery, Lagos, Nigeria.

Public lecture and discussion: Are the Photographs Always Speaking in Nigeria: Exploring representation, power and voice, 20 October 2018, Omenka Gallery, Lagos, Nigeria

Talk: Feminism, Godfatherism, Women in Politics and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in Conversation at OutSpoken, 18 October 2018, Revolving Art Incubator, Lagos, Nigeria

Paper: Architectures of Fear: Migration, Visuality and Representation, UNESCO International Conference on Migration: Southern Perspectives on Migration: Addressing Knowledge Production, 5-7 September 2018, Johannesburg, South Africa

Plenary Session IIIAcademic Virtues: Research Ethics in Ethnography, 2nd Ife Summer Institute, June 2018, Convener: Prof. Jacob Kehinde Olupona, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Seminar lectureEthnographic and visual research: from theory to practice. Department of Fine & Applied Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, 27 June 2018 

Seminar lecture: Citizens of Photography: The Camera and The Political Imagination, Institute of Cultural Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, 28 June 2018

Lectures: Photography and Society: Level 3 and Level 4 BA (Hons) Fine & Applied Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

  • Photography: Classic debates, contemporary realities, 31 October 2017
  • Photography and self-representation, 14 November 2017
  • Photography, identity, fashion, 28 November 2017

Lectures: Ife Summer Institute of Advanced Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria, Dates: Sunday, July 23 – Saturday, August 5, 2017, Convener: Prof. Jacob Kehinde Olupona, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Ethnographic Field Research & Methodology, July 26th 2017
  • Media and Technology – Creative Pedagogy – PhotoVoice, July 27th 2017
  • ‘Black Atlantic’ and ‘African Diaspora Studies’, August 3rd 2017

Paper: Congolese in the African Great Lakes region: Mobilities, belonging and urban landscapes’. African Migration in Comparative Perspective Workshop, Duke University, North Carolina, 27-28 March 2017.