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‘The strength of African women’s beauty influence my work’


Akinwumi Osunkoya is a Nigerian Visual Artist and a graduate of the New York Film Academy in New York, United States. In this interview with SEGUN OLANIYI, he bares his mind on how the strength of African women’s beauty influences his photography skills.

Tell us about yourself?
Akinwumi Osunkoya is a visual artist. A lover of women especially African women; I love the beauty and the strength of African women and that is really what has been a major influencer of my work. It’s the strength of African women and I feel like many times, African women have been underplayed in the sense that most people see them just as house wives most times and most of them don’t really have the opportunities or they don’t get all the praise they deserve.

I feel like in my own way I tried to celebrate them as far as showcasing their beauty to the world not just facially but body wise and also their strength, courage which is the reason why sometimes I do portray fine art images to show the beauty of their bodies in a way that I am not afraid to show African women to the world.

Tell us about your educational background?
I studied at New York Film Academy and prior to that I studied Urban and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State. I got my B.Tech degree and I did my NYSC. After that that was when I decided to go to the New York Film Academy to study film making.

Some of the models you use their nude pictures, do they give their consent before showcasing it for people?
Yes the models agreeing to shoot with you is obviously giving consent, but the models have to sign a model release, especially in a case where you plan to exhibit, giving you full authority to use, edit, print and to sell their images. This ensures that if at the end of the day, there is any legal issues you have prove of consent. So, yes I do get consent from models to portray their work.

Why did you choose photography?
Photography has always been something that I like. I guess from a young age I have always been into arts because I have always been the creative one doing cards, drawings etc. I think it grew up with me and what actually led me into photography was somewhere around my 300 to 400 levels in the University when I got fascinated with customs t-shirts because there was someone at my school who used to make customs t-shirts and he used to do it manually with acrylics and sticker papers. I learnt how to do that and I started to do it myself and I started to see that there was a market for it especially in the university where everybody wanted to have their own unique touch or their own unique fashion statement.

So, it was actually something that used to bring money for me, so I decided to expand to not just do it manually but I decided to go into a larger scale of production and I was using printers and designers from Lagos to print my shirts and I started going to screen printing, heat transfers.

But it was very difficult for them to get it exactly how I wanted it so that was a struggle. Eventually my mum travelled one time and she came back with a camera as a gift for me and that was when I started taking pictures of my own shirts. People saw the pictures and they were like your pictures are impressive and they wanted to pay me to do work for them, which led me to start training myself and by the time I graduated from the university I saw that it was something I could build a career on. That’s why I decided to build on that by going to study film, which in turn also improved my photography.

How would you compare photography in the US and Nigeria?
I think Nigeria still has a long way to go and we are getting there. New York is a very well known and established art centre in the world; so being there helps because it is a constant drive to improve and stay up to par with the level of expertise there Here in Nigeria, even though there is so many passionate photographers, it is very difficult not to put the commerciality of it before the passion side of it. This is because a lot of people have to pay bills, and if photography is a business for you it is difficult to wait until the market here in Nigeria favours the art part of photography as much it favours the commercial part. So, you have a lot of people that focus on weddings and events, which come more often, and that way they are able to sustain themselves as a business. So that is a major struggle we face here in Nigeria, but we are slowly getting to the point where art is being appreciated a lot more and I know it won’t be long before we get to the level it is at in other parts of the world.

Who is your role model in photography?
I consider role model as people who are able to influence me directly. So, for me I will say one major photographer that I really looked up to and I really appreciate his work, is Shamayim, an American photographer. I love his work especially because he does it so effortlessly, with as little gear as possible but it still comes out fantastic. He also gets to photograph so many amazing and beautiful models around the world, some of the best there are and that is exactly a point that I look forward to being at. I was also opportuned to attend a photography workshop he organised in New York and I got to learn a lot about his business side of photography and how he got to that point. He also encouraged me to use my name as my brand because he thought it sounded very exotic and that is something he loves about African names. I think that still remains one of the best advices I have received career-wise.

What impact does government have in the industry?
Honestly, if I am to speak about New York I wouldn’t say I see the government hand in the sense that I see exactly how the government affects entrepreneur and I know for sure that there is a system that works which you have the credit system, you are able to have a credit card and you are able to secure a loan without so much hassle as long as you can prove all of those things. Whereas, here in Nigeria it is really like most entrepreneurs are on their own if you don’t have the funds and if you are not like a large scale business you hardly ever get support from the likes to banks and others. Most of the times everything has to come from your pockets. As far as the government impact, I will say that I don’t really see much of an impact to be honest because whether the government funds or doesn’t fund I am still going to go about my business.

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