How would you describe your upbringing in Nigeria?
I grew up in Maiduguri, Nigeria. I have spent all of my life surrounded by men and women who were committed to not only their families but their careers. Growing up in the town of Maiduguri, my life was routine; school, home and extracurricular activities . My parents prioritised education and my father was a news junkie who read the paper and other books obsessively. I got my love of books from him and my work ethic from my glamorous mother who was a domestic goddess who worked full time while juggling six children. I spent my years learning many subjects and languages; Kanuri, Hausa, English, Arabic and French. Maiduguri, Borno State was so peaceful that our slogan for my home state is ‘Home of Peace’. It was a community of peace loving people who attended weddings, church service, Friday prayers at mosques, naming ceremonies and many other events. We are known for our flamboyant and colourful weddings. It was a town where everyone is there for each other. We are still a community that cares despite the years of conflict.
What themes do you explore in your work?
I explore many themes in my work; every aspect of our community that has been affected by the conflict; the education, the economy, the social events, the every day, the impact of the conflict. From serious topics to light hearted happenings, everything that affects communities, I try to document. And I monitor closely reporting about our town and counter the narratives that are being spewed in the media or focus on an untold story that needs to be highlighted.
The mass-media is notorious for portraying Africa as an amalgamation of poverty-stricken countries. For 'Bits of Borno', how did you find the balance of capturing extremely moving and beautiful moments, while documenting the the real-life circumstances of many of your subjects?
Portrayals of Africa have always bothered me, saddened me and enraged me. It is always a story of suffering. Why are we never happy in the stories? Do we have wonderful fulfilling careers? Many stories were missing for a long time. And in my work I wanted to address these untold stories. Even when it is clearly a conflict zone, you find moments of hope and absolute joy. I always wanted people to see that we are more than what happened to us. And in my photography, I capture these moments. However, I do not ignore the difficulties. I want to be fair in my reporting; I document the good, the bad and the ugly. I want to balance hope and despair as life itself is full of both and that is usually what is missing from some reporting about Africa; you see our tragedies but you don’t see our triumphs. I ensure that I capture both.
What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom to me means a world with no borders. A world where people have access to basic human necessities and rights. This may sound like a utopian dream but I just wish that every human had a chance to wander freely in the world without being persecuted, stereotyped or arrested because they are a certain race, gender, religion or socio-economic status.