Photographed by Nigerian photographer Jenevieve Aken, The Masked Woman is a thought-provoking black and white a self-portrait series that explores representation of gender in contemporary and cosmopolitan Nigerian society through a performative lens.

Though we see Aken depicted in a manner usually associated with the male gaze, hyper-sexuality and hyper-femininity – both clothed and unclothed, she attempts to subvert these stereotypes by facing them head on with the artist’s own agency being the central focus. Instead, what Aken uses the camera, her body and the environment she creates around her to do is to portray the solitary lifestyle of what can be described as a “super femme-fatale” character, “choosing to achieve pleasure and contentment through self-fulfilment that is not dictated by the subservient role as a house wife or defined through a man’s affection.” This also begs us to question both ourselves and the artist into asking: are women who are house wives not fulfilled? Looking into and understanding Nigerian society, this may very well be the case, or at least have a certain degree of relevance in the lives of these women in Nigeria.   

Confident and sexually autonomous, the subject represents women who are often perceived as “as extreme, eccentric, and outside of polite society in Nigeria.” The series embodies and exhibits the lifestyles of a growing number of independent, professional women in Nigeria who assert their independence despite being ostracized by cultural norms in the country.

The series was birthed out of Aken’s hope that the visuals and narratives articulated through it would inspire and create a much-needed conversation around these women and the ways in which they express and exorcise their independence and free-will. Rather than waiting for the narrative to be told from the outside, the artist chose to adopt these roles in order to give birth to her own personal freedom, in the hope that it will inspire other woman in Nigeria to express their independence and free-will.

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DYNAMIC AFRICANS: Akosua Afriyie-Kumi of A A K S.

It’s hard not to be attracted to Akosua’s A A K S brand and products. Aesthetically, the intricately hand-woven made in Ghana bags are bright, bold and beautifully designed. Ethically, the objectives of A A K S are rooted in sustainability and preservation; with every purchase, the buyer is more than aware of the process each item has taken to become what it is. And of course, there’s Akosua herself. In just a few months, she’s taken her grassroots operation from a brilliant idea to a fast growing business with no signs of stopping.  

Hello Akosua! We’re so pleased that we get to chat to you about your brand. But firstly, we’d like to get to know more about you, what you do and how A A K S was founded. 

I am Akosua, a fashion designer currently living in Ghana. My business A A K S was established after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted bags. Wanting to showcase this great technique and skill with a modern tasteful twist, I made the big move to Ghana after a time in London and embarked on a journey to change perceptions of hand crafted products around the world; and more importantly ignite sustainable jobs across Africa. The transition was gentle stemming from my fashion degree background and a great passion for design and colour, I decided to build a business that linked the maker directly to the consumer into a global brand.

The word “ethical” seems to pop-up a lot in descriptions of your brand. Can you elaborate on the meaning of “ethical fashion,” how you incorporate these objectives into your work, and how it translates towards the development of sustainability [within the fashion industry]?

The term ‘ethical’ to me means made by hand, handcrafted, hand woven; I grew up close to nature, beautiful coloured flowers, bright sunshine and warm rain. Natural, Nature and ‘Ethical’ has always been part of me, it’s a transparent and clear communication between a maker and a consumer to find answers to questions which are normally hidden or thought not of great importance  - such as (who makes your clothes? who designs this bag ? what materials have this product been made off, where is it sourced) Generally putting these words under an umbrella of ethical fashion brings soul and energy into a beautiful product and tells a story which is translated extremely well in my work process. The days of specialised craftsmanship are not over and perceptions are being challenged in the fashion industry now through sustainability. 

When designing your bags, where do you source your inspiration from? Can you talk us through your design process - where does your creativity stem from?

My inspiration is well and truly around me everyday. Through photography and drawing I am able to find a soft spot of inspiration which I normally base my research on. Other days I people watch or listen, I read design books, story books, I scout online for interesting blogs, I visit museums and galleries and when I am in Ghana I love staring at the women in my weaving community and their unconscious way of dressing which is a lot of bold colours and prints which clashes beautifully on the eye. 

AAKS is a bi-coastal brand based in Ghana and England, with the manufacturing happening entirely in Ghana. What is it like running a business from two separate geographic locations? And in what ways do you hope to see your brand expand?

I live in Ghana most of the time in the year; London is my second home now. It’s lovely to see a different light and perspective to my work in two different locations in the world. It also allows me to challenge myself to think for 2 customers and to think globally to satisfy a broader market. 

You launched A A K S in January, 2014, and since then, your brand seems to be growing from strength to strength. How would you advise young entrepreneurs struggling or attempting to develop their own businesses?

I would advise entrepreneurs to believe in themselves and their ability to start a business plus have a clear understanding of how you want your products made and perceived and not to worry about the background noise from people especially at the start. 

What have been some of the highlights from this journey so far?

Number one has to be a lady running up to me in London telling me how much she loved my A A K S Manni Clutch bag I was wearing, it dawned on me it’s my design and someone loves it and wants to buy it. I felt so happy!

Another highlight has to be showcasing my work in London at the South Bank Centre under the Platform ‘Africa Utopia’ and an Exhibition at the Oxo Tower Wharf for London Design Festival. It was so great to meet introduce my work to London, it was a great second home coming. 

Lastly, where or where can we purchase your amazing bags?

My bags can be purchased in London through the store Shake the Dust and soon to be on Styled by Africa online Website www.styledbyafrica.com which ships worldwide and the shop Bread and Bromwell in Woodstock, Cape Town. 

www.aaksonline.com (soon to launch) 

Thank you so much Akosua!

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P.S. She’ll be taking over our instagram this week so follow us here!


Watch: Nigerian Architect Kunlé Adeyemi’s “Floating School” in Makoko Highlighted in Al Jazeera Documentary.

Two years ago, this pioneering school in Lagos’s ‘floating’ slum of Makoko was deemed ‘illegal’ by local authorities who then threatened to demolish it. This year, the brainchild of Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi has been nominated as Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum.

Adeyemi’s innovative design was developed through a collaborative effort initiated between himself and those living in Makoko. After several discussions with Makoko residents on the ways in which issues surrouding education and the resolvement of the environmental issues that concerned the local community, Adeymei’s “floating school” was born. His design also came about during a time where the Lagos government had been threatening to evict Makoko residents and demolish the slum. Through his efforts, Adeyemi managed to not only successfully draw attention to issues surrounding life in Makoko, he did so in a way that gave Makoko residents a platform in which to regain their agency - all whilst contribute something of value to the community.

“There are hundreds if not thousands of Makokos all over Africa,” Adeyemi says. “We cannot simply displace this population; it’s important to think about how to develop them, how to create enabling environments for them to thrive, to improve the sanitation conditions, to provide the infrastructure, schools and hospitals to make it a healthy place.

“My belief is that in developing Africa we need to find solutions that can be developed by the grassroots, through the grassroots, and achieve the same level of significance as we have on the high-end projects.”

In this documentary project by Al Jazeera that looks at unconventional pioneers in the architecture industry, Adeyemi’s floating school is brought to life in the Working On Water episode directed by award-winning South African filmmaker Riaan Hendricks. The episode forms part of the network’s Rebel Architecture series. 

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Oikonomo by Edson Chagas.

Donning several types of plastic bags over his head, and wearing a plain and simple western-styled button-up shirt against an even more plain white background, Angolan photographer Edson Chagas addresses mass-consumption, global consumerism and the promotion of self and individuality in a culture that emphasizes originality and non-conformity whilst mass production is at its height.

In Africa, in particular, these modern-day ills are further compounded by the influx of second-hand goods that saturate local markets throughout the continent, leaving with them traces of the origin.

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