I spent my earlier years travelling to Benin city, Nigeria every December as it is customary for children and grandchildren to return home during festive seasons such as christmas and sometimes easter. My grandparents originally from Delta state, lived in Benin City. I was always fascinated by how exposed they were. Their stories fuelled my fascination with the Bini people and their culture.
In recent years I've been inspired by the work of Solomon Osagie Alonge, who throughout the 20th century, worked as the first official photographer for the Royal Court of Benin, eventually earning the title of “Chief.” Much of Alonge’s catalogue of images centers on the reign and practices of two Obas over the course of Benin City’s history: Oba Akenzua II (1933–78) and Oba Erediauwa (1979–present). “Oba” is a word meaning king or ruler in Edo language.
The world that Alonge (1911-1994) documented away from official ceremonies, rituals, and events was filled with stylish and free-spirited young men and women who had stepped in front of his lens at the local studio he built. Alonge’s work was an extensive and impressive visual record of Nigeria’s rising social and cultural class. He was a founding member of the Benin Social Circle, a group of businessmen, leaders and the “educated elite.”
For this collection, we were very much inspired by Alonge’s subjects and also the richness of Bini culture and tradition. His subjects wore a mix of western and traditional bini attire and they made these ensembles their own. Those in the upper echelon of society who could afford to do so would come dressed in their best outfits to have their portraits taken. Staring straight into Alonge’s lens, each subject had the power to represent himself or herself in the manner of their own choosing, a significant statement at a time when photos of Africans were often filtered through the gaze of a non-African photographer or anthropologist.
The Bini have a myth which says that the world was water and only a tree known as the "Ikhimwin tree" stands on that water. On that tree lives a bird known as the "Owonwon" (a double casque hornbill bird). This long-beaked bird features in a lot of African masks. It is referred to as the bird of creation. The colour palette, textures, fabric and embellishment used in this collection are things that remind one of Bini culture. powder blue to represent Water, green to represent the ikhimwin tree, feathers to represent the Owonwon, burgundy from the traditional burgundy coloured velvet wrappers tied by Bini women. The wood grain adire eleko (Nigerian wax dye technique) print represents wood carving which bini is known for, Copper one of Bini’s natural resources and thousands of coral beads (Ivie) have been hand beaded into a dress (Ewu-Ivie) and skirt. King (Oba) and chief heads have been made in bronze Asooke (Hand woven fabric).