Chukwuka Nwobi is a young incredible filmmaker/photographer from Lagos, Nigeria. His work speaks details of his general perception of life which is one filled with euphoria, allure, elegance, freedom and most of all youthfulness. His ethos as an artist is a pure and abstract one, he believes in himself as much as he believes in the next individual capturing this with his visual insight.
With Garden of Portraits, Chukwuka Nwobi partners with writer Adjoa Armah to create a tale of familial ties, diaspora’s and the internet age of the African generation
Have a look at Garden of Portraits below:
My mother, on several occasions, has told me stories of apparitions appearing to her in her dreams. Loved-ones back home have come to visit her, in our house in East London, to say a final goodbye before passing. On some occasions these visitors were recognizable, on others they have been more abstract figures. I’ve always listened to these stories and offered support to address any distress they may have caused. But recognize the spectres as anything other than coping mechanisms for loss? No. I could usually find a rational explanation connecting my mother’s visits and the phone call from back home we would invariably receive. Uncle had been unwell. Great Aunt was elderly and the quality of care at that hospital is inadequate. On at least one occasion though, my mother has given me the name of her night time visitor before that phone call. It was not someone elderly or sick enough to be easily explained away. I may not believe in ghosts, but that much I know.
In my mother’s visits, it appears that only loved ones back home were able or willing to travel across continents to bid her farewell. Friends and relatives in Toronto, Arkansas or Rome evidently found the phone a much more appropriate technology than ghostly apparitions for news of their passing to be transmitted. Despite my thoroughly modern, very Westernized, rational and somewhat mechanistic outlook, I grew up in a home within which ghosts would occasionally appear. Disbelief was not enough to quiet them. It did not matter that I did not believe in them. They believed in me.
For all of us, those at home and of the diaspora, ghosts do something productive. Always placed in a social network and part of a larger collective spirit. The meaning of a place depends on the ghosts we locate there, connect with there. To remain connected in a world where persons can be distilled into brands that can be sold. What a task. Perhaps our ghosts are the key. The ancestors never leave, or elders never stopped listening for them. The elders hold on while giving us the room to be. Just be. Be in the knowledge that there is no risk of getting completely lost, straying too far, becoming untethered. For the lucky amongst us, they hold on without interfering too much. Hold on in a way that says, “Be free, but I’ve got you”.
It is easy to dismiss the superstitions of our elders as we strive to be part of a world that has no room or recognition for the ancestors and spirits. However, progress is not always what we can prove or rationalize. When we speak, or think, or feel, or imagine a thing, we connect with something bigger than ourselves. It’s important that in our selfies and snaps and insta stories and tweets, we remember that we are doing this all as part of a story of images and things and words and ideas that are at home here. On this land. Just because the tools come from elsewhere does not mean the thoughts or sentiments do. We are our ancestor’s children, not the internets.
It is important to sometimes loosen our grip on our pasts so that ties can be made in new nations and communities. By not coming to me because I am not from there but from here. By instead going to my mother, ghosts from back home leaves room for me to engage in appropriate acts of homing. For younger migrants to hold on to these ghosts themselves would be to negate their own forms of belonging and homemaking, of personal and familial ties grounded in their new homes.
We have the right to be everywhere but owe it to ourselves to be anchored. And for this generation, those coming up, at home and elsewhere, now safe in the knowledge that our elders are our ground, even when we disagree with and question them – as we should. Safe in the knowledge that with this solid ground we can just be.
Let us continue along these new and existing paths we’ve carved out for ourselves. Our own ways of seeing in the world. More and more of that. New ways of being men. More and more of that. New ways of being women. More and more of that. New ways of being strong, of being rich, being smart, successful. No more big men, whose business is about the smallness of others. Real big men who can function when others are at the same scale as them. New families beyond blood, new communities beyond tribe, new belongings beyond nations. Strength as a capacity for care and not an ability to take.
For this land, the cradle of civilization. Ancient but home to the youngest population. The continent that is younger than any other, there is a lot to do but we have the best ground to do it on. But be mindful. As we demand change, let us make sure what we are demanding is real change and not just a seat at the table for ourselves. That only gets us deeper into what is already broken.