After Femi Ogunleye obtained his undergraduate degree in International Business from UTSA in 2011, he returned to Nigeria, where his family is from, to deepen his connection with its culture and heritage.
As part of this immersion, he began collecting works of art, bringing pieces back to San Antonio.
“I was coming back to America with the art, and people started to get interested and want to know more,” Ogunleye said. “I became a kind of go-between between artists from Nigeria and art collectors from Texas.
Most recently, Ogunleye – through his non-profit organization Ólàjú – exhibited the work of photographers from across Africa at the Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex in late January and February.
“Perspectives from Within: A Collection of African Photography” is still available until the end of the year via a virtual exhibition on the Ólàjú website. The online exhibition showcases the work of eight photographers from Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.
Currently, Ólàjú is focused on showcasing the work of African photographers due to the difficult logistics of shipping paintings and sculptures.
“There is a huge under-representation of African arts,” Ogunleye said. “Few people have seen African art presented in a gallery. It is really an intercultural exchange.
Part of the reason Ogunleye started Ólàjú was to raise awareness of African arts and to help remove misconceptions and stereotypes people might have about artwork from a continent they don’t know. as well with regard to its cultural contributions.
“Some even question the legitimacy [of the art], “he said.” When you showcase the job, some people are like, ‘OK, why is this here?’ So I take this opportunity to talk about black history in San Antonio, so that people can begin to make the connection.
For the exhibitions he organizes, Ogunleye said he looks for “young emerging artists” who are “on the verge of innovating”. It also revolves around artists who “promote certain stories” about their African culture and identity.
“I want the job to be challenging and different from what we’re used to,” he said. “All the photographers of [“Perspectives from Within”] have a big eye for their subjects.
The artists exhibited at “Perspectives from Within” are Wandile Xaba, Joy Eno, Fatima Zohra Serri, Ismail Zaidy, Marouane Beslem, Ogorogile Nong, Ohio Ohiwerei and Yasmine Kazeem.
Eno, a visual artist from Enugu, Nigeria, said her work examines gender, sexuality and self-expression. His six photographs in the exhibition speak to the stereotypical account of manhood in Nigeria. She hopes the artwork shows just how diverse and complicated African society is, and that it goes far beyond the “lion and hut stereotype” or “Wakanda narrative” that American audiences might attribute to the contents.
“The man is the ‘head’ of the family even though he has no leadership skills,” Eno said. “He is the only provider even if he earns less. He has to hide his emotions to show a position of strength. These rules put the whole genre in a box and leave a lot of men depressed. ”
Xaba, a photographer from Umlazi, South Africa who identifies as a queer activist, said she used her photography to rewrite her traumatic story as a queer black woman.
“I look critically at how black bodies have been viewed historically, compared to the colonial gaze,” Xaba said. “I wanted to reverse this presentation to better adapt it to the Africa in which I live by emphasizing my South African context.”
Xaba wants her work to start new conversations and provoke questions like “Who’s watching?” “” Who’s looking at the subject? And “Who has the power in an image?” ”
“I want my photographs to offer a chance to engage with perceptions of societies while challenging individual perspectives and assumptions,” she said. “Africans are generally described as stereotypical binaries. It is essential that Africans tell intrinsic stories to avoid the danger of the one-story story. ”
“Interior Perspectives” can be viewed online at olaju.org.
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